The Times should be congratulated for opposing Assembly Speaker John A. Peréz's proposed legislation to unincorporate the city of Vernon. The Times, however, repeats several commonly cited arguments against Vernon that contribute to the unnecessary hue and cry for the city's dissolution.
The Times states as fact that the city is "run largely for the benefit of its 2,000 businesses and two founding families." First, there should be nothing wrong with an industrial city with virtually no other residents being run for the benefit of its business community. Second, neither of the two founding families — the Furlongs and the Leonises — have any connection with Vernon today. The last Furlong connected to Vernon was Mayor Robert Furlong, who died in 1974. Mayor Leonis C. Malburg was removed from office in July 2009.
It is true that Vernon's officials have, since 1905, mostly lived in other parts of the county while voting there, and face little or no city electorate. For roughly the city's first 100 years, The Times gave this setup largely positive news coverage; now, it depicts this as a century of corruption. But over those 100 years, only four court-ordered fines for election fraud — all in 1944 for $500 apiece — were imposed on city officials. Most recently, Malburg and his wife were convicted in 2009 of voting in Vernon while living elsewhere. None of the overpaid functionaries cited by The Times, whom the city promptly removed from office, has been convicted of a crime after five years of investigations.
Leaving aside its legality, the main problem with unincorporation is that many of Vernon's businesses handle toxic waste and flammable materials. Whatever else may be said of Vernon, the city has always been a model for guarding against the risks posed by such industries. It is one of only four cities in Los Angeles County with its own health department; it also has a police force that boasts an average response time of less than 4 minutes and a Class 1 fire department. To dump the whole industrial establishment into unincorporated county land and thus dissolve these protective agencies would pose an unacceptable threat.
In 1953, Vernon proposed, and the Assembly's Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved, a charter for Vernon that would allow nonresident property owners to vote on local issues and candidates. This was defeated, but today it would solve the electorate problem in Vernon. Ten states allow nonresident property owners to vote in local elections. This solution could be restricted to Vernon if legislators did not want to have it apply more widely.
Leslie Evans is an author and longtime community activist in the West Adams section of Los Angeles.