Vernon Voters: Small But Mighty

April 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A single vote goes a long way in Vernon, where a mere 41 residents can determine the outcome of an election.

That’s what happened last week during the city’s all mail-in election, when 41 of the city’s 86 registered voters blocked a measure to raise Vernon’s utility user tax and reelected a council woman to a five-year term.

While Vernon has 1,800 businesses that employ more than 50,000 people, only about 200 people actually call the city home. The decisions those voters make can have a huge impact on businesses whose bottom lines have long relied on the city being business friendly.

 

City Council Makes History

Voters reelected Melissa Ybarra, who ran unopposed in the April 11 election and received 32 of the 41 votes canvassed. Ybarra was first elected to office to serve out the remaining term of her father Michael A. Ybarra, who died September 2014. This will mark her first official five-year term.

On Tuesday, Ybarra made history when she was selected by her colleagues to serve as Vernon’s first woman mayor.

Yvette Woodruff-Perez will continue to serve as mayor pro tem, marking the first time both the mayor and mayor pro tem are women.

“Never before have you had a female majority or female leadership on the City Council, and I believe that this is more proof that the City of Vernon is breaking down barriers and becoming a model of change for the Southeast Los Angeles area,” Ybarra told EGP.

Melissa Ybarra, who won reelection last week, made history Tuesday after becoming Vernon’s first female mayor.  (City of Vernon)

Melissa Ybarra, who won reelection last week, made history Tuesday after becoming Vernon’s first female mayor. (City of Vernon)

Measure Q Rejected

It took only 23 votes to defeat Measure Q – which would have raised the utility user tax from 1 percent to 6 percent for residents and businesses, generating an estimated $11 million to support city services.

It was an attempt by city officials to end the longstanding practice of using millions of dollars from Vernon’s profitable Gas & Electric Utility fund to subsidize the city’s budget shortfall. Although not illegal, the State discourages such transactions, viewing them as a hidden tax. The practice prompted credit rating company Moody’s Investor Service last year to downgrade the Vernon’s rating to a negative outlook.

Residents didn’t buy into the city’s claim that the impact to ratepayers would be minimal, and business owners previously questioned whether an offer of a 5 percent bill credit to cover the tax increase would be ongoing under the measure. Measure Q received only 14 yes votes.

The results are a sharp contrast to 2013 when voters approved a 1 percent utility user tax 34 to 7.

The election results were certified during Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Vernon will now have no choice but to continue its existing practice of transferring utility revenues to the general fund, City Administrator Carlos Fandino told EGP in an email.

Fandino had previously called Measure Q a way to fulfill one of the recommendations made to improve good governance practices in Vernon.

The results of last week’s election, however, do point to an evolution in voting patterns in a city state officials once sought to disincorporate because they believed the city had too few residents and that they were too closely tied to city officials to keep them honest. At the time, Vernon had 112 residents and nearly all of them lived in city-owned housing. Of the city’s 62 registered voters, 5 were councilmembers, 8 were related to a council member, 5 were city employees, and 7 were related to a city employee or contractor. Incumbents – who routinely and without question approved staff recommendations–usually ran unopposed; voters willingly passed measures put before them.

“The argument goes that this has led to self aggrandizement and favoritism to the elected and appointed city officials and their friends and relatives,” wrote the late John Van De Kamp in his first report as Vernon Independent Reform Monitor in 2011.

To avoid disincorporation, Vernon agreed to good governance reforms, including increasing the size of the city’s electorate. The Vernon Village apartment complex opened in 2014, doubling the number of residents and adding 29 new registered voters in the city.

Woodruff-Perez credits the doubling of the city’s housing stock and a new city council that is willing to go out and engage constituents, for giving both residents and businesses a voice.

“Looking forward, we have opportunities to build on this by increasing voter education and community engagement to become a leader not just in the Los Angeles area but the entire state,” Woodruff-Perez told EGP.

By 2015, a turnaround appeared to be taking hold, making incumbents less assured of reelection. Last year, a write-in candidate successfully replaced a longtime city official. Rejection of Measure Q further demonstrates the willingness of voters to oppose city leaders.

Fandino told EGP he is encouraged by the increased participation seen from the community.

“Along with the 170 reforms the city has made, this is another sign that the City of Vernon is a changed city.”

 

Vernon Utility Tax Measure Too Close to Call

April 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Vernon voters narrowly rejected a utility tax measure Tuesday, according to unofficial election results, but that could change once outstanding ballots are counted.

If approved, Measure Q would raise an estimated $11 million in general fund revenue, which would allow city officials to offset the millions of dollars currently transferred to the account from the Vernon Gas & Electricity Utility Enterprise fund. The measure received 12 votes in opposition and 10 votes in favor.

Voters also re-elected Councilwoman Melissa Ybarra, who ran unopposed and received 24 of the 26 votes canvassed. Ybarra was first elected to office to serve out the remaining term of her father Michael A. Ybarra, who died September 2014. This will mark her first official five-year term.

So far, 26 of the 43 ballots submitted during the all mail-in ballot election have been counted. The remaining ballots submitted at Vernon’s two polling locations Tuesday and postmarked by Election Day are scheduled to be canvassed Monday.

Vernon has 86 registered voters.

Vernon Councilmember Continues Family Legacy

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Vernon City Council welcomed a new member Tuesday.

Melissa Ybarra took the oath of office Tuesday; she will fill out the remainder of the term left vacant by the unexpected death of her father, Michael A. Ybarra in September. Ther term expires in 2017.

Councilmember Melissa Ybarra receives the oath of office during Vernon’s city council meeting Tuesday. (City of Vernon)

Councilmember Melissa Ybarra receives the oath of office during Vernon’s city council meeting Tuesday. (City of Vernon)

Ybarra, who ran unopposed, was elected Feb. 17, becoming the fourth member of the Ybarra family to serve in elected office in the City of Vernon since the 1930s.

“I plan on making a difference in the community that I have grown up in,” she said. “I plan on embracing some of the characteristics that my father, Michael Ybarra, had. I plan on serving this seat with honesty and integrity. I plan on questioning all that I do not understand,” she added.

 

Election of Melissa Ybarra Makes Vernon History

February 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

For the first time in Vernon’s history, two women will be on the city council at the same time and be responsible for making decisions in southeast industrial city.

On Tuesday, voters elected the daughter of late councilman Michael A. Ybarra who died unexpectedly in September last year. Melissa Ybarra will hold the seat for the remainder of her father’s term, which expires in April 2017.

“I’m excited to start this new chapter in my life and look forward to working with the city, businesses and residents to help the city grow,” she told EGP Wednesday.

Ybarra, 37, who ran unopposed, received 26 votes out of the 63 registered voters in the city, according to preliminary results.

She will join Luz Martinez who was reelected to office last year, as the third woman to ever serve on the Vernon City Council.

The lifelong resident has worked as an operations manager for the last 18 years.

She will be sworn into office in March.

“The city council has been all male and now there will be two Latinas,” she said excitedly. “I plan to work with everyone to get the city back on the prosperous way with businesses wanting to come to Vernon.”

Vernon Election Feb. 17

February 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Vernon residents will submit their vote-by-mail ballots Tuesday to elect a council member to fill the unexpired term of Michael A. Ybarra who passed away unexpectedly.

Ybarra’s daughter Melissa Ybarra is the sole candidate running for the seat that expires in 2017.

Voters can mail their ballot or drop it off at the city clerk’s office located at 4305 S. Santa Fe Ave, Vernon 90058 by 8p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 17.

For more information, call the City Clerk’s office at (323) 583-8811 extension 546 or email cityclerk@ci.vernon.ca.us.

Hija de Concejal Fallecido Quiere Ocupar su Lugar en Vernon

January 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Era el año 2012 y la sala del Consejo de la ciudad de Vernon estaba repleta de residentes, dueños de negocios y empleados de la ciudad que habían llegado a ver las audiencias del fraude electoral después de una elección especial disputada. Era la segunda vez en seis meses que los resultados de las elecciones del consejo municipal estaban siendo desafiados, muy inusual en una ciudad donde las elecciones hasta entonces mayormente determinaban el resultado antes de que las papeletas fueran contadas.

Al final, Luz Martínez venció a su oponente después de que un funcionario de la audiencia especial descalificara varios votos.

Dos años han pasado y las dos últimas elecciones han sido el polo opuesto de esos días, con titulares corriendo por el puesto tranquilamente sin oposición.

El siguiente mes, los votantes de Vernon emprenderán la tarea de llenar el asiento del consejo dejado vacante por la muerte inesperada de concejal Michael A. Ybarra el pasado mes de septiembre. Sólo uno de los candidatos se incluirá en la boleta de la Elección Especial el 17 de febrero y es un nombre que sonará familiar a los residentes.

Melissa Ybarra, de 37 años, la segunda hija del concejal fallecido, está corriendo para llenar el resto del mandato de su padre, que expira en 2017.

Melissa, residente desde hace mucho tiempo de Vernon, dice que su pasión por la ciudad ha crecido a lo largo de los años. La gerente de operaciones en una compañía de imprenta por 18 años le dijo a EGP que ella ha estado pensando en correr durante años, desde que AB 46 amenazó con cancelar el estatus de ciudad en Vernon.

Pero, “Mi papá me ganó”, dijo, pero “El correr por un lugar estaba siempre en el fondo de mi mente”.

Con más de 1,800 negocios pero solamente 110 residentes, Vernon ha experimentado grandes criticas de personas de fuera quienes cuestionan si su electorado es lo suficientemente grande para tener un gobierno responsable en la ciudad.

“La ciudad donde he vivido toda mi vida estaba a punto de ser removida”, Melissa recordó acerca de los esfuerzos legislativos en el 2011 para desincorporar Vernon. “Quiero seguir adelante con transparencia y ayudar a la comunidad de negocios a crecer”, dijo acerca de sus razones para correr.

Su padre fue elegido en una agenda de “reforma” en la estela del movimiento de desincorporación. Fue el miembro más vocal del consejo, y muchos en la comunidad lo veían como un soplo de aire fresco después de décadas de pocos cambios.

Peter Corselli, vicepresidente de U.S. Growers Cold Storage, Inc, dice que “la voz de la comunidad empresarial” se perdió cuando Ybarra murió.

Corselli conoció a Melissa durante la campaña ‘Salven a Vernon’ y le dijo a EGP que espera que ella sea aún más abierta y cuestione más que su padre.

Al igual que su padre, Melissa dice que es muy vocal y no dependerá en gran medida en el personal de la ciudad para establecer políticas, como algunos han criticado al consejo de hacer.

“Si yo no entiendo [algo], voy a hacer las preguntas”, dijo. “Si siento que algo está mal, voy a hablar”.

Melissa se compromete a trabajar en el aumento de la participación comunitaria.

“Me sorprendió que nadie corrió contra mí”, dijo ella, sintiéndose un tanto conflictiva. “Con todo lo que hemos luchado en el pasado, me gustaría que más gente pusiera  su nombre en el ring”.

Pero con sólo 60 votantes elegibles en la ciudad, Corselli dice que no está sorprendido de que nadie más este corriendo.

El Encargado de Monitoreo de la Reforma de Vernon Reforma John Van De Kamp, sin embargo, siente que podría haber algo más en juego; Él dice que la falta de candidatos en esta elección en particular no es por falta de interés, sino por respeto al concejal fallecido.

Aunque no conoce a Melissa personalmente, Van De Kamp dijo a EGP que ella viene de una “familia excepcional” con una historia profundamente arraigada en la ciudad.

Su abuelo, Thomas A. Ybarra sirvió en el consejo de la ciudad durante 43 años. Otro pariente lejano, Esteban Peralta, abrió la primera tienda en Vernon en 1905, el año en la ciudad fue incorporada. Él sirvió 15 años en el consejo durante los años 1930 y ‘40.

“Ella viene con su padre apartando su asiento”, el concejal Richard Maisano le dijo a EGP, agregando que Melissa sabe lo que se necesita para ser un funcionario electo.

El plazo de Maisano termina en abril, pero él dice que no buscará la reelección porque el trabajo consume demasiado tiempo.

Su partida marca el fin de una era de clase, él es el último de una larga serie de miembros del consejo designados. Una ordenanza municipal prohíbe ahora el nombramiento de los miembros del consejo.

El martes, el consejo votó para colocar otra medida en la boleta electoral dirigida a cambiar las elecciones en la ciudad, en este caso la limitación del número de empleados de la ciudad activos en el consejo a uno.

Las personas interesadas en postularse para el concejo de la ciudad tienen hasta el 20 de enero para presentar su solicitud de nominación para las elecciones generales del 17 de abril. Al cierre de esta edición, no había más candidatos habían presentado sus solicitudes para el término de cinco años, según la oficina del secretario municipal.

Sin embargo, hay rumores de candidatos interesados, algunos quienes ya han solicitado un paquete de nominación.

Maisano le dijo a EGP que uno de sus vecinos esta interesado en correr.

Un proyecto de vivienda asequible de 45 apartamentos, programado para abrir a finales de este año podría duplicar los votantes de la ciudad y con ello el número de posibles candidatos a un cargo público. Según Maisano, algunos negocios de la ciudad están animando a sus empleados a aplicar para vivir en la nueva vivienda con la esperanza de obtener algún tipo de voz empresarial en el consejo, y entre el electorado.

Pero más residentes no significa necesariamente candidatos más o mejor cualificados, dice Van De Kamp, quien destacó la importancia de poner a los residentes en las comisiones con el fin de prepararlos para un cargo público.

“La realidad es que no hay muchas personas en Vernon con el interés y el fondo para correr”, dijo.

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