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City of Vernon Takes Steps To Double Number of Residents

Continuing to respond to past criticism that the city had no real electorate and was therefore ripe for corruption, Vernon this week took another step toward making good on reforms promised as part of a 2011 deal to keep the mostly industrial city from being disincorporated by the State legislature.

State officials had questioned whether Vernon’s residents could truly function as an independent electorate, since most of the housing in the city was owned and heavily-subsidized by the city, making city officials the de facto landlord for almost all of Vernon’s residents and voters. As part of a deal with Sen. Kevin de Leon, who issued a set of mandates for the city in exchange for his opposition to AB 46, a bill that would have disincorporated Vernon, city officials agreed to bring rents up to market rate, which they have since done, and to look for ways to increase the number of residents in the city.

Site of proposed Vernon Housing Project will be built at 52nd Drive. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

On Tuesday, hoping to double the city’s residential population, the city council adopted three resolutions aimed at clearing the way for building a new affordable housing project in the city. The council voted to amend the land use and housing elements of the city’s General Plan, and to amend the city’s Zoning Ordinance and Map. The amendments would have the added benefit of putting the city in compliance with a state law requiring that it accommodate emergency (homeless) shelters by right in at least one zone.

The proposed affordable residential project, to be constructed by a developer selected through a formal bidding process, will be built at 4675 52nd Drive, a 2.06-acre city-owned lot that is currently vacant.

The proposed gated community would be made up of two-story buildings and include 45 units — 9 one-bedroom units, 22 two-bedroom units and 14 three-bedroom units, according to the city’s staff report. The project’s proposal also includes a community building, an office for property managers and social service providers, a laundry room, computer lab, tot lot and onsite parking for residents.

Kevin Wilson, Vernon’s director of community services and water, told EGP the project would meet the criteria to expand the city’s voting population.

“It’s a doubling of the population, I think it goes a long ways towards meeting good governance and concerns that were raised by Sen. De Leon,” Wilson said.

The council also moved closer to approving development agreements with Meta Housing Corporation, which include the terms for the ground lease of the site, project schedule, construction, financing, income and affordability requirements, site management maintenance requirements and the right to remediate the project.

Wilson told EGP that the next step is for the city to formally adopt the ordinances, which will be presented at the next council meeting on March 5.

The developer will than submit an application for federal low-income housing tax credits. If approved, the ground lease will be finalized and plans for construction will be submitted.

“If everything is in order than we can enter into the ground lease agreement and the construction will begin, hopefully, early next year,” Wilson said

The lease on the property will take effect once the developer is ready to start building. The proposed lease is for 65-years with an option for an additional 10 years; rent for the developer is set at $1 a year.

Jon Goetz, who is providing legal assistance with the project, told the council the rent was based on an economic analysis that was performed for the city that looked at the economics of the project and the restrictions the affordable housing project has on the amount of rent that can be charged.

“This is the most at this time that could be afforded by the project,” Goetz said. “This is really the city’s assistance to the project, it’s providing both the use of the land and this low cost.”

Construction is expected to be completed by May 2015.