California Assembly votes to dissolve city of Vernon

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A water tower above the city of Vernon, California.

The California Assembly today voted 60-to-7 to dissolve the city of Vernon. California hasn't dissolved a city in 40 years. Assembly Speaker John Perez, who sponsored the bill, says Vernon isn’t a city. It's a “fiefdom” that lavishes pay and perks on city officials.

City of Vernon: population, 96.

That’s small.

Perez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, says that’s too small. But size isn’t really the problem.

Perez says Vernon operates to make life easy for most of those residents. Vernon controls and subsidizes all but four housing units in town. Residents live in them for less than $240 a month. And Perez says city officials handpick those residents.

“These are family members of the council. These are family members of city leaders. These are the council members themselves, employees of their private businesses,” Perez said. “You have to know somebody to live in the city of Vernon. There is no independent electorate.”

For 20 years starting in the mid 1980s, Vernon had no contested elections. People who tried to reform the municipal government were harassed and driven out. Last year, the attorney general’s office launched an investigation of city officials. It turned out that many were pulling down six-figure salaries. The City of Vernon has spent $54 million on legal defense fees. Speaker Perez, whose district includes Vernon, says the only way to reform the city’s government is to strip away cityhood.

But the Vernon Chamber of Commerce and some labor leaders argue that dissolving Vernon will drive away businesses and thousands of jobs. That message got through to Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino). The Tea Party member co-authored the bill to “dis-incorporate” Vernon, then voted against it.

Urging other members to vote against it too, Donnelly asked, “Are we really addressing the problem or are we looking to just wipe out the city that actually has more jobs than residents? Isn’t that a problem we want to have? Don’t we want to have more businesses and more jobs?”

Assembly Speaker John Perez says if lawmakers support his bill to dissolve Vernon, the city’s businesses and jobs won’t be lost; they’ll become businesses and jobs in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles or another city might also move to annex Vernon. Perez says he’ll fight to keep business-friendly policies that aren’t corrupt.

The bill to “dis-incorporate” Vernon heads next to the Senate.

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