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Editorial

Vernon in the cross hairs

Vernon has been mired in financial and electoral shenanigans for decades, but that doesn't mean disincorporation is the answer.

June 22, 2011
  • A billboard near downtown L.A. makes a reference to jobs based in Vernon. The city is facing disincorporation under AB 46, to be debated by the state Senate this week.
A billboard near downtown L.A. makes a reference to jobs based in Vernon.… (Christina House/For the…)

The leaders of Vernon — both in business and government — have only themselves to blame for the bill that would dissolve the city. For decades Vernon has been mired in financial and electoral shenanigans and, from time to time, downright corruption, so it's no great surprise that legislators are finally taking aim at it.

That still doesn't make it right for the state to disincorporate the city, which is what would happen under a bill being considered Wednesday by the Senate Governance and Finance Committee. If officials in Vernon are breaking the law, then the appropriate response is to prosecute them, which has been done at least twice. If they are raking in outlandish salaries and perks but are not violating the law, then it's up to their constituents to vote them out of office.

The argument for disincorporation is that the very structure of Vernon is unique in ways that make it difficult to throw the bums out. Business owners are kept happy by policies welcoming heavy industry and offering low utility rates. The 90 or so residents — yes, that's all there are — don't care; they get heavily subsidized housing from the city, and many are its employees. In other words, Vernon is not a fully functioning democracy and probably won't be unless it expands its residential base.

Yet no matter how much Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) doesn't like the goings-on in Vernon — we don't either — his bill is legally dicey. It doesn't mention Vernon by name; instead, AB 46 is drafted to cover any city with fewer than 150 residents — of which there is only one, Vernon.

That was done in part because California has no process for disincorporating an individual city without the consent of its voters. AB 46 circumvents that problem rather than asking key questions, such as whether Vernon as it is currently structured can ever operate the way a city should. Those issues should be addressed head-on by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, which is responsible for analyzing local government boundaries, before politicians get involved.

AB 46 is vehemently opposed by residents, unions and business leaders of the city who have, late in the game, crafted a series of proposed reforms, such as cutting officials' pay and establishing term limits.

So why is Vernon the target of so much passion for change? Possibly wrath over the misdeeds in town, but the city's business leaders and officials point, with some justification, to Vernon's nearly $300-million-a-year tax base, which has been eyed hungrily by several surrounding municipalities, including the city of L.A. If Vernon became an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, much of its tax wealth would be transferred to the Board of Supervisors. If Vernon were ultimately annexed by another city, that municipality would get the revenue.

The bill would set a precedent just as troubling as Vernon's embarrassments.

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