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Vernon considers selling its controversial homes and apartments

New housing commission — the centerpiece of a wide municipal reform effort — would consider selling residential properties owned by the city to assuage controversy about its voters.

August 13, 2011|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times

Members of the newly formed Vernon Housing Commission said they would consider selling the homes and apartments owned by the city to assuage controversy about its voting population.

The commission is the centerpiece of a governmental reform effort launched in response to a state bill calling for Vernon to be disbanded. The industrial city south of downtown Los Angeles has just 112 residents and has been mired in a series of corruption scandals in recent years.

For decades, nearly all of Vernon's residents have lived in 26 homes and apartments owned and managed by City Hall, in effect making the council members landlords over the city's voters. State lawmakers say the arrangement has enabled a small group of leaders to control Vernon's government with few checks and balances.

Now the homes will be overseen by the commission, which includes the city's mayor, three local businessmen, two residents and an employee of one of Vernon's largest companies.

"Our goal here is to put a barrier between city leaders and the voters," said Commissioner Mike Hughes.

The commission will also formulate a conflict-of-interest policy for future lessees. The Times reported last year that more than a dozen relatives of city officials were awarded leases at subsidized rates, including four nephews of City Administrator Mark Whitworth.

Vernon's new ethics advisor, former state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, said in his report that 25 of 62 registered voters in the city had direct connections to City Hall. He recommended that the city adjust rates to market levels and establish policies that avoid favoritism.

Van de Kamp also advised selling all of the homes.

Commission Chairman Eric Gustafson said he has not yet taken a position.

"This is a monumental step for the city," said Gustafson, whose family has operated a manufacturing business in Vernon since the 1920s. "I want to look at every option."

sam.allen@latimes.com

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