Dismantle Vernon, But Do It Right

By Ralph E. Shaffer

On Wednesday, Assembly Speaker John Perez’ effort to dissolve Vernon, that cesspool that posed as a city government for over a century, passed another hurdle with the passage of his companion bill, AB 781, out of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

While AB 46 only dismantles the City, AB 781 details Perez’ plan for the future of Vernon. When he released the bill last month I was surprised to find that it was almost precisely the proposal I had made several months ago in correspondence with the Speaker and Vernon business owners. The business community opposed disincorporation of the city, fearing the devastating effect that dissolving Vernon would have on the area’s economy. To assuage their concerns, I proposed that the dismantled city be converted into a Community Services District [CSD], governed by workers and business owners. The plan now offered by Speaker Perez is essentially that.

If the Speaker has his way, the CSD would function like my plan but with one major exception. Perez would give workers and owners only an advisory voice. The county supervisors would govern the district. That is unacceptable to both capital and labor. Their opposition may kill both bills since the defeat of one bill automatically defeats the other.

What Vernon needs is a government that gives business owners and labor the security and perks currently enjoyed without the rule of a self-perpetuating cabal that has run that city since it was created in 1905. The stability, certainty and favorable government that business in Vernon wants will come in the form of that CSD, not annexation to L.A., Maywood or Commerce or rule by the county supervisors.

The neighboring cities drool over the hundreds of millions of dollars in various taxes that Vernon now collects. Need to balance a budget? Annex Vernon. The supervisors also see the cash cow that is Vernon as a solution to some of their financial problems.

In addition, the right to regulate and control zoning would be taken over by these outside interests. Those whose livelihood is determined by economic conditions in Vernon are right to be worried.

The solution is AB 781 with its CSD. California has thousands of special districts for mosquito abatement, flood control, libraries and dozens of other services. Surely it would be common sense for the legislature to establish a Vernon Industrial Community Services District, dedicated to promoting industry.

With some exceptions special districts don’t have the power of a city government. But some do and they are the precedents for what Vernon could become. Kern County’s Bear Valley Community Services District, for example, does everything a city can do yet it is unincorporated.

The new Vernon district would provide public safety, utilities, and other city functions while continuing to serve the industrial needs of the community. That would allay the fears of business owners and at the same time remove the stigma long associated with Vernon’s government.

Who would be the constituents in Vernon’s CSD? Right now 67 registered voters control the fate of Vernon’s 1800 businesses and the jobs of 50,000 workers who commute to Vernon each day. Let those 67 vote if they continue to live there, but enfranchise the owners and workers.

To confront the owners’ fear that they will be outvoted by their workers or that union bosses would replace the cabal that has ruled Vernon for so long, there is an easy solution. Let labor chose two governing board representatives and the owners two more. The four elected board members could then chose a fifth one.

The Vernon Industrial Community Services District is truly that “idea whose time has come.” It will prove that business doesn’t need a handful of Vernon oligarchs to provide a pro-business environment.

Ralph E. Shaffer, professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona, has been a Vernon-watcher since 1951.

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July 7, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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