The ‘State of’ Paramount today
By Paramount City Manager John Moreno
For the Journal
Editor’s Note: The following are remarks delivered at the Paramount Chamber of Commerce’s “State of the City” event held Thursday, Feb. 1, at Progress Park Plaza. They have been edited for space.
Our Finance Department has been winning awards for financial reporting since 1982.
Our largest single category of income is sales tax. This category of revenue has been steady. In 2008, our sales tax revenue was $7.46 million. In 2017, it was $7.28 million.
Revenue, as well as conservative spending practices and creative ways to get things done, has allowed us to continue providing top-quality services to our residents and businesses.
Through all of this, we have been able to post surpluses for the last seven years including $360,000 in 2017.
In Paramount, as long as I’ve been here, we’ve always played by the rules, and like every city we undergo a yearly independent audit, which we’ve passed with flying colors. Still, sometimes you want to go the extra mile.
In 2017 we initiated a further audit procedure. The auditors studied the way we disburse cash and wire out funds. This was voluntary; it didn’t have to be done.
I am very happy to report that we were found to be in great shape, only minor changes were recommended.
We will continue to look for ways to maintain the integrity of our operations and retain the stability that we’ve been known for over the last few decades.
Running a tight ship seems to produce positive ripples into the community, too. Unemployment here has been dropping for years, and is now at 4.9%. We all can remember the high employment of 18% from back in the peak of the recession.
Property values continue to increase. According to Zillow, the median price of a house in Paramount went from $367,000 in January 2017 to around $400,000 today.
In fact, the latest housing development in town, 30 new single-family homes near The Home Depot, is sold out. Prices ranged from the high $500s to the low $600s.
It’s all very stable.
We have re-launched our efforts to express the eternal need for residents to support the local economy and our business community.
It’s called “Shop Local: Spend in Paramount.”
The idea is very simple. Money spent in Paramount puts deputies on the beat and maintains parks for our kids.
One way we’re getting the word out is through a dedicated Facebook page. We’ll promote specials, coupons, show videos, do short features or profiles, and provide other types of help. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
It was another good year for us in terms of Part One crimes, which had an overall drop of 6%. Theft, arson, rape and robbery all led with substantial declines.
If you look at our ten-year trend, the figures are down by a healthy 18%. Even with the slight uptick in 2015 and 2016, those numbers were still way below 2008 and are nowhere near the highest levels reported years ago.
In fact, when it comes to serious crime, you have to go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s to find comparable levels. I want to thank the Sheriff’s Department for being such a strong and collaborative partner over these years that have seen such good results.
But law enforcement can’t do it alone. Our Neighborhood Watch program is very vibrant in Paramount. Last year we held 33 meetings with 649 residents attending. These meetings cover all sorts of public safety topics, but one of the more consistent complaints we hear about is speeding.
We did something different last year to address this “need to cut down speed.” We had an unfilled motorcycle officer position, a position that can be a revolving door at times taking weeks or even months to re-fill. Instead of waiting for a single deputy to fill the spot, we opened up flexible overtime shifts to all motorcycle deputies within the Sheriff’s Department.
The response has been phenomenal and we have seen the fruits of this labor with 2,844 citations issued over the last year. We take the issue of speeding on our streets very seriously for the public hazard that it represents.
Now we come to the most controversial topic from last year, something that created headlines in the press and was full of frightening news, frustration, heated debate, and, finally, partnership, leadership, and progress.
Paramount has certainly seen its share of challenges over the decades. How many of you remember the Rand Report? How many of you remember the response? What became our hallmark was the community coming together to make things better and developing programs that helped us overcome obstacles.
This time, however, the challenge was air pollution. We confronted hexavalent chromium. The extremely high levels of this toxin that were found seemed to come out of nowhere.
Even the Air Quality Management District was caught unaware by these high levels and sources of pollution.
The big story of 2017 involved a wide cast of characters – local, county, and state agencies; residents; environmental activists; businesses; clergy; and more.
It revealed how environmental management works and who holds what kind of power.
With that progress has come success. A report released recently by AQMD noted the“significant improvements” made here since October 2016. That line is from the AQMD. The scientists, the regulators, the experts.
Last year I went over the actions taken up to that point and told you about other planned responses. So I want to focus on a few of the really important things that have happened since then.
The soil and dust at Village Park were tested by the State and the City.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control certified that the soil and dust at the park does not contain hazardous levels of hexavalent chromium or other metals commonly used in the metal industry.
This was great news for our community. The fact that the park is located in the industrial area of town and showed no impactful signs of metal pollution was very encouraging.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health also published findings on soil samples taken by both them and the City, near two businesses identified as sources of hex chrome.
According to their report, the low detection of hex chrome at the ten soil sampling locations, some near homes, suggests that “direct contact with or accidental ingestion of these surface soils would not appear to represent an exposure pathway of public health concern.”
Again, we were grateful for these results.
In light of the public’s concerns with hex chrome in the air, we decided to go over and above all state and federal standards related to testing our drinking water.
In late 2016, we started monthly testing for hex chrome. The results have always showed levels to be less than 1 part per billion, well within the safe levels for drinking water.
Some other quick points – the City Council Air Quality Subcommittee spent most of the year studying ways to make sure these problems related to metal businesses will be lessened in the future.
As I mentioned last year, the City Council shut down expansion of these types of businesses and the opening of new ones with a moratorium.
Then the solution of radically revamping our zoning regulations and planning laws was developed. If approved, these changes should go a long way toward controlling potential sources of polluting metals in town.
These actions and results do in fact show that, although there is still work to be done and we’re not finished with this latest challenge, significant improvements have been made in Paramount’s air quality.
Times are very difficult right now with another issue that has spread across our region, homelessness. According to the annual survey conducted by the County, the numbers here in Paramount have more than doubled, from 50 people in 2016, to 111 last year.
It’s a terrible situation with any number of root causes. Regardless of those causes, it’s another tough challenge that we in Paramount will not turn away from.
Joining with Bellflower, the Home For Good Funders Collaborative, and the County Homeless Initiative, we received a grant for $100,000 last year. We will split this money with Bellflower to create a plan that coordinates community members, non-profit organizations, and stakeholders to try and solve homelessness here.
We had another productive year laying asphalt, repairing sidewalks, building drought-tolerant medians, retrofitting City facilities for energy efficiency, and making recreation improvements like building the new futsal courts in Paramount Park.
Regarding streets, our big resurfacing project was a portion of Alondra Blvd., one of our busiest boulevards. This was good for our cars, specifically our tires. It was also good for our environment … specifically in terms of our used tires. Confused?
The resurfacing projects are done with rubberized asphalt, which is a way to recycle old tires. On Alondra, we diverted almost 10,000 tires from landfills. That’s a lot of rubber hitting the road, or, actually, becoming the road.
By the way, our street paving will get a boost thanks to the State transportation bill that passed last year. Our share will be nearly $13 million over the next ten years for local road repairs. So we hope to do a lot more paving in the years to come.
Speaking of transportation-related taxes, a few years back, L.A. County voters approved an increase in sales tax to help boost public transit. As a result, a light rail line planned for our area will probably be built sooner rather than later. Note I said ‘probably.’
When it’s done, it will run from Artesia through Paramount and into Union Station in downtown L.A. The route will include two stations here. That will definitely be a dramatic part of our infrastructure. It will also feature possible economic growth opportunities in the areas around the stations.
A lot of planning will be done this year. We are “tracking” – no pun intended – all this very carefully because, opportunities aside, we will strongly oppose any negative impacts such a large project might produce.
Leaving cars and trains, we’ll be providing more space for bikes by extending the bike path thanks to a very competitive $3.4 million grant we were awarded from Caltrans.
It will now go from Somerset where it currently ends to Rosecrans. Eventually, the trail will join the L.A. River, connecting downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean at Seal Beach.
We repair damaged sidewalks on a regular basis. To do this more cost-effectively, we were one of the first cities to join a pilot program for inspection and maintenance run by our Insurance Authority.We received over $30,000 for the project.
More than 140 miles of sidewalks were assessed. This allowed us to identify where panels could be repaired rather than fully replaced, which saved a lot of money.
Within four months, we removed over 9,000 sidewalk trip hazards spanning roughly 228,000 square feet in the city.
Finding these potential hazards, and getting rid of them quickly, was driven by our commitment to safety and keeping risk management costs low.
Back to recycling for a minute … a type of recycling, anyway, involving part of our virtual infrastructure. Our City website. It was about time that we re-did our City website.
The current site went live in 2001, with no design changes since.And if you’ve tried to navigate the site on a mobile device, please, please accept our profound apologies. We’ll get there! We should have something to unveil for you by mid-year, so keep an eye out for it.
Odds and Ends
These following items fall outside of a specific category, as things often do.
The Los Angeles County’s Community Choice Energy Program (or LACCE) is a program we’ve joined at the direction of the City Council that will hopefully save everyone in town money on their electric bills.
It combines the buying power of Paramount customers with customers in other jurisdictions. Your electricity will still be delivered by Edison, you’ll still be billed by Edison. You can even stay with Edison if you want to.
But if you join LACCE, you can determine the source of your power and that Edison bill should be a lot lower.
You can buy renewable energy through LACCE for less money than Edison’s renewable energy rate. This is a big step for us, as we were one of only a handful of cities to do this. It’s another way the City is working to be environmentally friendly.
The Long Beach Chapter of the Red Cross has been a real resource for hundreds of our residents through their smoke detector program.
The Red Cross has provided the smoke detectors for free and they have been installed by volunteers from our churches, Habitat for Humanity, L.A. County Fire, and folks from some of the companies here today. Last year there were 313 installations.
It’s a potentially life-saving effort, and we thank everyone who has been involved.
Speaking of preparedness, the City changed vendors for our Reverse 911 system last year.
The messages we send through landlines, cell phone or text can cover a range of issues, including emergencies, public safety, recreation, special events, etc. I urge everyone to sign up on our homepage at paramountcity.com where there is an easy-to-find tab.
Here’s something that might’ve gone under economic activity, but it’s too delicious not to be a stand-alone morsel.
We’ve been on a roll when it comes to new food and drink establishments with Hiccups, Waba Grill, Chipotle, The Habit, Papa John’s and IHOP opening last year.
This movement is still going forward. Ono Hawaiian BBQ opened a few weeks ago andthe last two tenants at Clearwater Crossing have started construction.
One of those is The Stinkin’ Crawfish featuring an amazing menu of Cajun and other seafood delights, with a full bar and indoor/outdoor patio.
The Pizza Press will be right next door, where you can create your own pie and wash it down with a selection of craft beers.
Some star power came to Rosecrans late last year across from the high school. La Diosa de los Moles is operated Rocio Camacho, who is known as the “Goddess of Mole” on the L.A. foodie scene. She has brought us her legendary recipes.
It’s always nice to welcome a celebrity to town. We hope she thrives here, just like another small business has done …
Horchateria Rio Luna has been a regional smash since opening and being featured on local television. Last year they were named the Small Business of the Year by Speaker Anthony Rendon for his Assembly district.
The City also nominated them to take part in a non-profit program for healthy small businesses, which turned out to be a great experience for them.
Last year I told you we created our Boulevard of Heroes along Paramount Blvd. to honor residents who are currently serving in the military. We also have a special place in our hearts for military veterans from Paramount.
In 2017, the City Council adopted a program that will shine a light on those vets. We will be sharing their stories with the community in a variety of ways like social media and our website, and also offer them some other perks.
The first part of the program happened last year in conjunction with our partners at the animal shelter, SEAACA. Pets for Vets provided free dog and cat adoptions. The animal shelter pays for half and the City pays the other half.
Paying tribute to our veterans will be a pleasure and an honor for us.
In Paramount, our recreational space is rather limited due to any number of historical reasons. So we try to be creative and efficient with the resources we have, getting the most usage possible for the greatest number of residents.
In that same spirit of efficiency, last year our Recreation Department began exploring partnerships with outside agencies that might bring specialized expertise to certain programs.
We joined together with the local YMCA to run our youth basketball league and provide water-safety classes. We also turned over the management of our youth soccer leagues to the Paramount Youth Soccer Organization.
We are relatively lean when it comes to our employee and staffing levels. That’s why we look for these inventive ways to get the job done, and get it done well, for the people of Paramount.
And I can guarantee you this – everybody who works for the City is devoted to Paramount and works hard and does whatever it takes.