Carrie Downey Reflects On 12 Years Of City Council Service - Coronado Eagle & Journal | Coronado News | Coronado Island News: Coronado City News

Carrie Downey Reflects On 12 Years Of City Council Service

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2019 1:39 pm | Updated: 1:58 pm, Fri Jan 4, 2019.

To understand Carrie Downey’s service to Coronado, which at least for now is taking a two-year hiatus after serving three terms on the Coronado City Council, a knowledge and appreciation of her background is beneficial. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Downey is the oldest of four children of Robert and the late Janet Downey.

A dramatic change occurred when Carrie was 16 and attending a Catholic Girls high school in New Jersey. “Dad worked for Exxon Engineering and they were planning a new oil refinery in Wyoming,” Downey said. “So they changed their plans, sold the home and we moved. Dad was a pipefitter and mom at the time was an executive secretary. Wyoming was rich with coal and gas money and they had fantastic public schools. I went to Cheyenne East High School and was able to join the Debate Team, the Choir and was involved in all kinds of extra curriculars my small school didn’t have.”

Downey was an accomplished debater, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows her, and was offered a scholarship in debate at the University of Wyoming. But she had other plans in mind for her education, including putting herself through college. “I wanted to go back to the East Coast and I was researching schools. A gentleman I had known in high school, who was in the Navy, suggested Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island and I applied there. I knew I preferred to be not so cold. Bryant has a highly respected business program and they had opportunities to work part-time and I appreciated that.”

Armed with her Business Degree, Downey headed off to law school, again with a specific goal in mind. “I knew I wanted to go to law school in Washington, D.C. and I selected Catholic University, because they were very flexible, and I was paying for everything myself. Catholic University courted me, and they allowed me to start law school in the spring. I sensed I needed that flexibility. I decided during my first year at Catholic University, that I didn’t know much about being a Navy lawyer. They set up some interviews for me with a female judge advocate. The Federal Government doesn’t pay for law school, but if you join the military, the loans are deferred for three years and they pay the interest. I wanted to get into the courtroom quickly. I was very lucky the Navy selected me after my second semester of law school.”

Thinking ahead, and because the Navy wouldn’t accept her until she passed the Bar, Downey went to the state of Georgia during her third year of law school and passed the Bar exam. Downey earned her Juris Doctorate from Catholic University in 1991 and immediately went on active duty.

Downey added, “Because I took an early bar and came on right afterwards, I was the first person in my year group in the Judge Advocate Corps. I could choose to go anywhere. I had never been to California and I went to Long Beach. I started as a defense counsel and when you get good, they move you to represent the government. I was a prosecutor when the Navy decided to close Naval Station Long Beach. I got orders to go to San Diego and my first job here was with COMNAVAIR, U.S. Pacific Fleet. At that time, there was a three-star Admiral in charge of all the pilots, aircraft carriers and Naval Stations in the Pacific. The attorney I worked for was the Force Judge Advocate in charge of all of those places. COMNAV is headquartered on NAS North Island. That’s what brought me to Coronado and I never left.”

In 1990 Downey transitioned into another job in the Navy, as she explained. “My experience up to that point was in criminal law and I went to work for the commanding officer of NAS North Island for three years. In that job I did a lot of environmental work.”

In 1994, Downey’s first husband, who is a Navy doctor, thought Carrie might be having some medical challenges. She said, “He noticed me walking and veering off. I was having balance issues and tripping. He sent me for a neurology consult and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I stayed on active duty for five years and my bosses were supportive of my efforts. I was an effective judge advocate, but I couldn’t pass the physical readiness test. I couldn’t complete the run in time. I served nine years and medically retired as a Lt. Commander. I didn’t leave of my own volition and I would have stayed for 30 years if I could.”

Toward the end of her Navy career, Downey received assistance from the Veterans Administration, which provided for education to aid in her transition into another job upon retirement. Downey enrolled in a Master-of-Laws program at the University of San Diego and graduated with a concentration on Environmental Law in 1999. Downey said, “The VA paid for the tuition and I got the master’s as a civilian. I was hired as a civilian and worked as a consultant to Navy Region Southwest for two years.”

Downey has three daughters with her first husband and two step-sons with her husband Elton Inada. Describing her extended family, Downey said proudly, “They are all grown and out of the house.”

It was a concern for the future of the Coronado Unified School District, acquired during her volunteer days at Village Elementary School, that led to her first foray into local politics in 2000. Downey said of her platform when she ran for city council, “There were actually two things. My daughter Becky was in elementary school and it didn’t make sense to me that the school district and the city weren’t cooperating. It was detrimental to the students. I wanted to find out information about why that was happening and about the Community Development Agency. I couldn’t find anything. There was one copy of the city council meeting agenda and that was on reservation at the library. Working with the Federal Government at the time, we were far ahead in the areas of E-mail and websites. I offered to use the scanner at my law firm to get the agenda posted on the city website and that’s how I got involved. I was on the Board of Parents and Teachers Together (PATT) and later I was president for two years. The best part was because of my time as president, I realized the PATT raised $100,000 for the art teacher, music teacher and other staff members.”

Thus a grassroots political movement began. “So, I reached out to my friends in the Junior Woman’s Club and got help from Maggie Hannegan, who is the fundraising chair for the Coronado Promenade Concerts and (former CUSD Governing Board President) Maria Simon. My time as PATT president exposed me to women who knew how to get things done. They have been my base of political support and efforts since then. They helped raise the money and showed me how to access people. And it taught me people in Coronado are very generous if you show them the need. Maria Simon followed me as PATT president.”

Downey’s first run was unsuccessful, but she ran again in 2004 and won. When asked what she learned in the intervening four years, Downey said, “I needed to get to know people better. They didn’t know me even though I had lived in Coronado for seven years. I was a mom with three kids and I didn’t meet many of the local residents. I used that four years to get to know them. I met Floyd Ross in 2000 when he needed help with Concerts. I met a lot more people and looked for those opportunities.”

Downey won in 2004, was re-elected in 2008, but was termed-out in 2012 and not eligible to run for a third term. She took a two-year hiatus and was re-elected to the city council in 2014. However, Downey wasn’t totally away from the political arena, as she chaired two environmentally-related committees for the San Diego Association of Governments.

While serving on the city council and running her own law firm, Downey still found time to undertake an additional assignment, Adjunct Professor at the USD Law School, teaching at the Energy Policy Initiative Center (EPIC) at USD. “They needed an attorney to take over teaching a brand new Energy Law and Policy Class,” Downey said. “I’ve been doing it now for 10 years. I only teach one semester a year in the fall, and it’s about 10 hours a week. I love doing it. They change the laws every year and the class must be topical and accurate.”

Over her three terms on the city council, Downey points to five specific areas where she had a positive impact on Coronado. They include:

• Improving the relationship between the city and the CUSD, which included updating the Community Redevelopment Plan, which aided both agencies. Also there was the creation of a facility use agreement between the parties, which benefitted both students and residents. The facilities included the CUSD pool, theater, track and basketball courts. In addition, the Coronado Recreation Department operates the CUSD After School Programs.

• Improvement in citizens ability to participate in meetings, with agendas appearing on line, and council meetings starting at 4 p.m. instead of an hour earlier.

• Downey played a major role in voluntary historical preservation, including increasing the number of homes eligible for historic designation, while incentivizing homeowners to participate. This year the council voted to clear the backlog of 29 homes that qualified for the Mills Act Agreement.

• She sought to balance the community’s need to control development and private property owners’ rights to use their property. Through the Residential Standards Improvement Project (RSIP) Committee, Versions I, II and III, the city council shrunk the maximum size of a new home built in the city by 30 percent. Downey added, “We shifted the bulk and mass away from the front to keep a pedestrian friendly village atmosphere.”

• And Downey helped expand transportation options in Coronado, including implementing electric vehicle charging stations, and the expansion of the summer shuttle’s dates and times.

You might ask, what does a woman with an undergraduate business degree and two law degrees do for her next challenge? Actually, progress toward her next goal began in January 2017, the pursuit of a PhD in Public Policy and Politics through Clairemont Graduate University. And there’s more. “I love teaching, which is actually why I decided to go back to school. I want to become a full-time teacher. I earned a very good living and I love being a lawyer. It paid for the kids’ college and our Coronado home. The kids are done with school in two years and being a full-time college professor is what I would like to do. I’m about one-third of the way through the PhD program. Up to now, I have taken two classes in the fall. In the spring, I took nine straight hours of class. My husband Elton drives me up and he works while I’m in class. Then we drive back the same day. It’s a full-time, four-year program and I’m getting a dual degree. By doing it full-time, I can finish the course work in two years and then do the dissertation. I’m hoping to complete the degree in 2020, but we’ll see. I need to finish the classwork I couldn’t fit in before and I have to take some classes on Tuesday.”

The reference there being the conflict with Coronado City Council meetings, which are held on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

The pattern Downey has established thus far during her career, is to have not just one, but multiple projects in the works and running simultaneously. She is still active in the Lions Club of Coronado, is on the Board of the Coronado Promenade Concerts, a member of the Coronado Woman’s Club and on the Board of EPIC at USD. And there is her ongoing law practice.

Downey elaborated on a couple of projects she has in mind, “The city has asked me, and I plan to do evaluations for job applicants for two different positions, from the city perspective. And I will be part of the interview process for the top applicants. I also want to find a way to encourage people with homes to park one of their cars in their garage, instead of on the street. And in private sector life, when we have the Fall Cleanup with EDCO for the big stuff, I want to have a community-wide cleanout of our garages to get cars off the street. Those are plans for the community I want to work on.”

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