Vernon welcomes newcomers in bid to shed corrupt, 'True Detective' past

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The industrial city of Vernon is doubling the size of its 100-person electorate to combat past charges of political corruption.

The first of about 100 new residents have moved into Vernon Village Park, an affordable housing complex built on the edge of town bordering Maywood.  

Vernon officials pledged to bring in independent voters after a string of corruption scandals led state legislators to threaten the city with disincorporation in 2011.

With oversight by an "Independent Reform Monitor," the city picked private developer Meta Housing to build the Spanish-style, 45-unit apartment complex.

Nearly all the other homes in Vernon are owned by the city, which had raised eyebrows at the state capitol.

"One of the issues in that whole debate (over disincorporation) was the city could for all intents and purposes pick who lived there," said city spokesman Fred MacFarlane. "They controlled the vote."

MacFarlane said that the city passed a resolution to double its electorate, and has followed through.

"Vernon Village Park is a physical testament to the fact that it has," he said.

 Others reforms the city has taken include setting salary caps for elected officials and creating a housing commission. Previously, city officials had rented homes to relatives and other people they knew at heavily-subsidized rates.

Officials were also blasted for misappropriating funds and giving themselves outsized salaries. The city's corrupt past serves as the inspiration for Vinci, the fictional city at the center of Season 2 of HBO's True Detective.

It's unclear whether any of the new residents will opt to get involved in politics. Medical technician Emilia Bernal, who just moved to the complex from East L.A. with her four kids, said she doesn't have spare time.

"I have time for my kids, my house, my work, but not for that," Bernal said.

Ashley Walker, a new tenant from Hawthorne, said she won't be a regular at City Hall either — not with a job, criminal justice classes and a four-year-old son. After a hard day's work, she plans on enjoying amenities such as a playground, edible garden and communal grill.

"It's a nice environment," Walker said, as she moved her son's jackets, still on hangers, out of the car and into their apartment. "And who wouldn't want to be in something brand-new?"

Carol Menke, a former college administrator who’s lived in Vernon for about five years, said she is glad the city is growing. She was among the residents who joined forces with city officials and local businesses to fight the disincorporation of Vernon.

"I think it's important we have a broader electorate so there is not even an appearance of impropriety of our government," Menke said.

Spokesman MacFarlane said the city will welcome the newcomers in a ribbon-cutting ceremony this summer.

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