A single building houses City Hall, police, fire and other city service… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
Desperate to avoid being stripped of cityhood, the leaders of Vernon were willing to do just about anything — including paying $60 million to neighboring cities to use for parks and recreational programs.
This was part of an agreement hammered out by state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), who offered to oppose the bill that would have disincorporated Vernon in exchange for a set of concessions. Most of these were good-government reforms in a city renowned for municipal scandal — the industrial town with 1,800 businesses and only about 110 residents, where city officials controlled who moved into town because Vernon owns all the housing units. The city where the mayor didn't live in town, the gadfly was followed and hounded, where city officials enjoyed luxurious perks and a scheduled election didn't take place.
Under the new rules brokered by De Leon, council members' pay is limited and they will at least partially relinquish control over city housing. Several other rules, if followed, will also help ensure that Vernon becomes at least a somewhat respectable city.
The $60-million payout, though, is an unfortunate and unworthy side deal that has nothing to do with ending corruption. De Leon's motives appear to have been pure; in his eyes, Vernon owes the money to surrounding areas because it is a bad neighbor that has for many years allowed industries to pollute the air for the whole area. In addition, because it has so few residents, it doesn't offer the parks and other amenities that other cities must provide for residents.
Though Vernon does welcome dirty industries, those businesses must abide by the same state and federal environmental measures as any other companies in California; if they fail to do so, neighboring cities have every right to call in the environmental cops. Similarly, if Vernon creates an illegal public nuisance in its region of southeastern Los Angeles County, other cities can seek redress in the courts.
Vernon is an easy city to dislike, incorporated from the start to draw industry and enrich the local landowners. But if it doesn't break the law, it doesn't owe its neighbors money and shouldn't have been singled out for disincorporation by legislative leaders.
Right now, Vernon's debts might make the $60-million difficult to pay. That's Vernon's problem; it agreed to the deal and must fulfill the terms. But as reviled as Vernon is, other California cities should be contemplating this situation with concern. If Vernon can be pushed into an expensive deal because it has money and tends to rile people, which city might be next?