Sunday, March 26, 2023

Early Reflections from Councilmember Carrie Downey

Carrie Downey
Image courtesy of Carrie Downey. Photo credit: Elizabeth Wampler

Family, profession, service and community ~ these are a few of Carrie Downey’s favorite things. Her passion is undeniable and it translates into everything she does. She did not take the decision lightly to run for City Council when she first ran in 2000; and now again in 2018, as she plans to not run for public office and focus more on family and her fourth postgraduate degree, which will help her to reach her next goal. She has taught Energy Law and Policy as an adjunct professor for 11 years, but wants to take it further as a tenured professor. “After living here for 25 years, my loyalty to this community runs deep and I made sure there were experienced committed candidates before I decided to step away,” she commented.

She first ran in 2000, while raising her children alone, and she was entrenched in the Coronado schools, and wanted to help the city and school work more closely together, especially in regards to redevelopment. “I wanted to give the school a voice with the city,” she said. Her first bid for City Council was unsuccessful, but once she got on the Council in 2004, she delved into the intricacies of working in city government.

“I’ve always been happy to be a leader for things I believe in. Sometimes volunteers just need someone to carry their torch,” she stated. She has led many causes during her time on City Council, including enhancing the relationship with the school district, redevelopment, working to keep housing in Coronado available and affordable for Navy families, encouraging more public input on policy decisions via a variety of communication methods, Historic House Preservation, adequate beach bathrooms, handicap beach access, which she understands, making Coronado more bike and pedestrian friendly, to name a few from the list of issues she has supported, all for the betterment of the community.

Carrie has been a communication champion throughout her time on the Council. Even before she was on the Council, she found it hard to access information. Intimately familiar with the Freedom of Information Act and California Public Records Act, she pushed the city to make information more accessible, and in 2006, the Council meeting agendas were scanned and made available on the city website. She worked with Casey Tanaka and got the meetings live streamed, and during this last term worked to video other City Commission meetings and make those available on the city website as well. In working to encourage more public participation in policy decisions, she convinced the Council to move the start time of public meetings from 3 pm to 4 pm. Back in 2005, she helped persuade former City Manager Mark Ochendusko to make the City Manager’s report available to the entire community. This has progressed to the new video version of the City Manager’s Weekly Update.

“Communication with our residents is key to help them understand the myriad of issues that come up,” she emphasized. One of her regrets is times when the city didn’t accurately explain issues to the residents. For example, when looking at options for building a multi-use path along Ocean Blvd; people quashed the ideas before there were even any suggestions. “I think we have been able to implement some communication strategies that create an open dialogue between the city and residents,” she said.

Many people don’t realize that Councilmembers have no staff and only receive a small stipend, and serve for the love of their community. The evolution of social media, where everything is Google-able, has changed the Councilmembers’ role. Now, people ask every imaginable question from allowable fence heights to traffic complaints. When Downey approached the City Manager about appointing a city ombudsman to help with these types of issues, an app, called Ask Coronado, was developed where residents can report problems like pot holes or ask more pressing questions about the Successor Agency or water recycling, which staff then answer.

The City Council adopted a Historic House policy when a possibly historic home was inadvertently torn down in 2000 without community awareness. She has supported every historic home measure throughout her tenure and encouraged Mills Act designation money to incentivize people. She feels rewarded with the results of her most recent subcommittee with Councilmember Donovan and says they were able to make some constructive inroads with clearer language, an approved survey and hopefully more proposed positive changes in the future to protect Coronado’s history.

She spent eight years trying to get a bathroom for South Beach because many people approached her about this issue, and she herself took her kids near there when they were smaller due to easy access. She worked tirelessly developing a petition, asking residents if they supported the idea, but the project was ultimately shut down by the Coastal Commission due to sea level rise. She pointed out that “this might change after the Hotel del does its next major expansion and the issue can be revisited.” Meanwhile, a temporary restroom was placed there and gets tons of use, proving the need for services at that location.

In 2012, she took a hiatus from the Council, but still continued her commitments with SANDAG and the Sharp Hospital Foundation Board. In 2014, she had more to accomplish and ran again. She enjoys being part of the process of determining policies that shape our community. “I voted to add parking along 3rd and 4th Streets to help calm that corridor and started a petition asking residents if they wanted low pedestrian-scale lighting to help send the message to drivers that our streets are family neighborhoods not freeways, and I am pleased that a test block will be constructed soon,” she said.

“I feel incredibly blessed in this community that we have a multitude of professional, educated residents who are willing to pitch in by serving on boards, giving input, etc.  That we have to choose is a good problem to have. Most cities have trouble finding enough volunteers. I felt I was elected to serve the residents and help the city function fiscally and efficiently as a government agency and I have helped make strides to that end,” she highlights.

She isn’t ruling out returning to public service if she can help people, and feels immense gratitude for residents’ support these past 12 years. For now, she hopes to finish her classwork in two and a half years and spend quality time with her three daughters and two step-sons. Since there are not many hours left in her busy days, when she does have a moment, you may catch her rereading her favorite book, which is John Adams by David McCullough. When her loaner copy didn’t get returned, her kids got her a replacement copy, because she views it as a ‘must read’ for everyone.

Carrie Downey
Image courtesy of Carrie Downey. Photo credit: Kel Casey



Jennifer Velez
Jennifer Velez
Jennifer fell in love with Coronado as a teenager while visiting a college friend. She vowed that someday she would make it her home, and that dream has recently become a reality. Fast forward through completing college with a BA in Journalism, Public Relations and Communications, she then went on to work with a variety of clients. She also taught Journalism and coordinated fundraising for her children’s school, and was a staff writer for San Diego Family Magazine and contributed to other parenting publications. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]