Pérez Introduces Bill To Dissolve City of Vernon

Businesses and city officials are open to discussing Pérez’s concerns about Vernon but say they have been shut out.

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

The city of Vernon is in the cross hairs of a bill introduced by State Assembly Speaker John Pérez Monday that, if passed, would disincorporate any California city with fewer than 150 residents by January 2012.

Vernon has just around 90 residents and would be the only California city for which this bill would apply. No city in the state has ever been dissolved against its will, though two have disincorporated voluntarily.

Pérez, whose district includes Vernon, said this bill is necessary because of the city’s checkered past. “For years, the entrenched leaders of that city have operated with impunity and no accountability,” he said, adding that city leaders abused the “trust of the taxpayers” and were “bad neighbors to the cities that surround Vernon.”

Recent reports of both alleged and confirmed misconduct by city officials, as well as the generous salaries paid to some of those officials, have led Pérez to believe the “city operates as something close to a racket.”

Pérez worked with Republican State Assemblyman Cameron Smythe, the bill’s co-author, to introduce the “bipartisan bill that will disincorporate the city of Vernon.” The bill will go first to the Local Government Committee, chaired by Smythe, before it is heard on the Assembly floor.

Vernon’s City Administrator Mark Whitworth took issue with Perez putting this bill together without discussing it with the city first. “We remain open to sitting down with Mr. Pérez to better understand the concerns and find ways to address his concerns,” he stated at Monday morning’s regular council meeting.

Whitworth said this bill could potentially be in violation of the State Constitution and the rights of charter cities. “If the state can deny rights to cities with 150 residents, any city could be legislated out of existence,” he said.

The bill could potentially cost jobs and tax revenues, as well as result in “billions of dollars of liability,” to the state, he said, adding the city “intends to defend the rights of the residents, the 1,800 businesses and tens of thousands of people who earn a living in Vernon.”

Business leaders in Vernon are opposed to efforts to disincorporate the city. Vernon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Thomas Andersen said officials like Pérez ignore how such efforts would affect employment in the state.

“No one is calling him out on that,” he said. “Everyone is focusing on corrupt government, which we all acknowledge exists or did exist in Vernon.”

Andersen said he tried four times in November to contact Pérez about alternatives to address Vernon’s government practices. “He won’t talk to us or is certainly giving us that impression, and he needs to explain how this would be of benefit to employees,” he said.

According to a 2008 Economic Impact Study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and commissioned by the city of Vernon, a significant chunk of the residential population in neighboring cities go to work in Vernon.

In Maywood, 1,515 residents, or 13.4 percent of the residential population there, had jobs in Vernon at the time of the survey. In Huntington Park, 3,276 of its residents, or 13.4 percent of the residential population, worked in Vernon. Employees of Vernon businesses also figured largely in Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy and South Gate. The city of Los Angeles was home to nearly 16,000 Vernon-based employees.

Vernon Property Association President Steve Freed, who condemns the misconduct of Vernon city officials and favors giving businesses or property owners a vote, thinks the city might just find a way around the bill, especially if it will only affect cities with 150 or fewer residents. “I believe the City of Vernon will simply build an apartment building or two and raise their population over 150 people,” he said.

According to Pérez’s spokesperson John Vigna, this is why the bill establishes the minimum city population at 150 people as of Dec. 31st 2010, or three weeks from now, to prevent the city from doing something like this.

Vigna says Vernon city officials and businesspeople who feel they were not consulted or ignored prior to the introduction of the bill have the opportunity to speak at committee hearings.

Pérez’s past relationship with Vernon has included his opposition to a proposed power plant project, which the city abandoned just over a year ago after environmental justice groups and officials such as County Supervisor Gloria Molina campaigned against.

The project had the potential of reducing or maintaining utility costs for businesses in the city, but according to Andersen the chamber itself never took a position on it because they could not get sufficient information on the project at the time. The chamber has since pushed the city to be more transparent about Project Volt, in which the city is looking to invest in out-of-state power plants.

Andersen says Pérez’s bill could threaten the ability or desire of businesses to stay in California, depending on how disincorporation would affect energy and other utility rates, police and fire services, and the permitting process.

Vernon’s location among major freeway arterials and railroads has also been cited as ideal for businesses. Vernon is also home to several cold storage companies that by necessity must stay within a reasonable distance to consumers or end users of items such as food that must be kept cold.

In response to the business community’s concerns about the bill, Vigna said they “don’t anticipate any negative economic consequences” and will make sure not to take a “step back in job creation and retention.”

Vigna emphasized the issue being addressed by the bill is about “transparency and accountability or lack thereof” in Vernon, which “functionally does not have an independent electorate to hold city officials accountable.”

“That is why we are taking this unusual step to remedy this unusual problem,” he said.

Also on Monday Pérez said one the Assembly’s goals of the 2011-2012 session is to get California “back to work.”
“Job creation is our top priority, and it’s central to putting California back on the pathway to prosperity,” he said.

A bill that he introduced to restore childcare funding for working parents would save “tens of thousands of jobs,” he said.

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December 9, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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