Women Shaping Vernon of the Future

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Like some of its neighbors in east and southeast Los Angeles County, women now outnumber men on the Vernon City Council.

The three women on the five member council were all elected during a time of transition in the city, which has spent the last several years trying to move past its reputation as a place mired in corruption and pollution.

“Vernon is changing,” says Councilwoman Melissa Ybarra with pride. “It’s going in a new direction that five or ten years ago nobody believed it could.”

Ybarra, 38, was elected in March 2015 to fill out the remainder of the term left vacant by the unexpected death of her father, Michael A. Ybarra.

“I was nervous” when I first took office, she told EGP.

“Same here,” chimes in Councilwoman Yvette Woodruff-Perez, 35.

She joined Councilmembers Ybarra, Luz Martinez, W. Michael McCormick and William ‘Bill’ Davis on the dais in April 2015. Her election was history making in the city, marking the first time the city council would be dominated by women – all Latinas.

“I love the fact that female residents can step up and lead and not be intimated,” Woodruff-Perez said.

Like some of it’s neighboring cities, Vernon’s past has been riddled with political corruption. Highly industrial, with more manufacturing, warehousing, animal rendering plants and other types of industry than people living in the city, Vernon was at every level very much a man’s world. Including the all male city council that for years just rubber-stamped staff recommendations without questions.

But that’s all changed, according to Ybarra and Woodruff-Perez, who during their short time in office have changed the tone of the city council from quiet and trusting, to more questioning and willing to direct staff, rather than the other way around.

Woodruff-Perez recalls that at age 5 she was translating for her parents who only spoke Spanish.

“I carried that with me, and learned if you speak up people listen.”

Ybarrra has been vocal about the need for more housing, like the fairly recently opened Vernon Village Park, which doubled the city’s population and was key to good governance reform. Now she wants to bring businesses and residents closer together as one community, and to get it done before her she comes up for reelection next spring.

“There always seems to be a line between the residents and the businesses,” she noted. “That’s why we need more community involvement.”

Councilwoman Yvette Woodroof-Perez, left, and Melissa Ybarra, right, represent Vernon’s new generation of leaders. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Councilwoman Yvette Woodroof-Perez, left, and Melissa Ybarra, right, represent Vernon’s new generation of leaders. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The two councilwoman would like to see more recreational and cultural opportunities for the city’s 200 or so residents living near the State Route 710. A community-based marathon, art, music and fitness classes are a few of their suggestions. They’d also like to develop scholarship and resident recognition programs and perhaps open a pocket park.

“Vernon should be a place where people choose to go instead of sitting in traffic,” Woodruff-Perez said.

That’s where businesses come in, she said, pointing out the number of businesses that could make a variety of public-private partnerships possible. If the city, for example, wanted to take part in the Rose Parade, there are a number of steel companies that would surely donate and volunteer, she suggested.

But some of the city’s businesses have also hurt Vernon’s reputations with its neighbors, who accuse the city of only caring about what’s good for business and not the community at large.

Communication is key to repairing those damaged relationships, according to Ybarra, who says she always keeps lines of communication open.

“If [residents] want to know something and have questions I will gladly talk to them.”

A health fair is another way to bring Vernon residents and their neighbors together, suggests Woodruff-Perez, whose background is in nursing.

“We want them to know that we do care as a city,” added Ybarra.

When it comes to politics, Woodruff-Perez told EGP she wants the three women on the council to use their platform to educate and motivate people to run for office. For years, most of Vernon’s elections were uncontested. The April 12 council election was in danger of going down that same road, but it now appears Leticia Lopez will challenge longtime council member, Mayor W. Michael McCormick, as a write-in candidate.

Vernon’s Independent Special Counsel, former Attorney General and Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp acknowledges the city is going through a “major transition.” The city has implemented 150 good governance reforms since 2011 when it was nearly disincorporated amid charges of misappropriation of funds, voter fraud and excessive executive salaries.

“This was something I wanted to be a part of,” explains Ybarra, as she looks toward the future. “It gives me a sense of pride knowing I’m doing this not just for the future of my kids but for the city.”

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March 24, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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