Vernon Checkpoint Nets 5 Arrests

September 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A DUI/Drivers License Checkpoint conducted in the city of Vernon resulted in 5 arrests, according to the Vernon Police Department.

Officers with the police department’s traffic unit were looking for drunk motorists, but also hoped their presence would serve as a deterrence to driving intoxicated, said the department in a written statement.

Close to 1,100 cars drove through the checkpoint – located at Santa Fe Avenue and 38th Street — between 6:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 26. Police said they screened 709 vehicles and cited 23 drivers for operating an unlicensed vehicle; 4 drivers were cited or arrested for driving with a suspended license, and 5 drivers were investigated for DUI. Police also arrested one driver for a DUI warrant and driving without an ignition interlock device.

Checkpoints are conducted in locations where there is the “greatest opportunity for achieving drunk and drugged driving deterrence and provide the greatest safety for officers and the public,” police said, citing California’s “disturbing increase in drug-impaired driving crashes.” Vernon police support “the new effort from the Office of Traffic Safety that aims to educate all drivers that ‘DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze,’” it could also mean marijuana, the department said.

“Vernon PD will continue to enforce DUI related offenses in our ongoing commitment to lowering deaths and injuries upon our streets and highways.”

Social Gathering Connects Residents to City

June 29, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

VERNON – Summer was in full swing last week at the Vernon Village Park Apartments, where residents enjoyed a variety of fun activities and food, courtesy of city officials.

Members of the city council and city staff “turned out to flip burgers, paint faces, play catch and provide valuable sidewalk CPR demonstrations to adults and children,” the city said in a statement to EGP.

The June 20 gathering was one of several events being planned as part of a Vernon initiative to get residents more engaged in their hometown and with their neighbors.

Activities included a special “Chat with the City Administrator,” Carlos Fandino, who used the occasion to listen to residents’ concerns and to let them know about the myriad of services and resources available through the city. Information was also provided on local jobs, registering to vote and the city’s vote-by-mail process.

Modeled after the successful nationwide “Coffee with a Cop” campaign, residents were able to meet informally with city staff to raise concerns, ask for help or just get to know the city’s employees, according to the city’s statement.

As a special treat, Vernon Police K9, Doby, greeted children from the apartment complex and Vernon firefighters gave them a tour of the fire truck. The youngsters were even allowed to try on a uniform.

The outing was a “great opportunity” for council members and city staff to get to know residents, Fandino said.

“Vernon Village is our newest community and we want to make sure they feel connected with the City as a whole.”

Vernon Welcomes New Police Chief

June 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A familiar face in Southeast Los Angeles County will serve as Vernon’s new police chief, the city has announced.

Anthony Miranda, a former Bell acting chief of police and current police chief of Irwindale, was hired last week to replace retiring Vernon Police Chief Daniel Calleros.

Miranda will be sworn in during the June 20 city council meeting.

“I spent 22 years in the Southeast Los Angeles area and I am excited to return,” said Miranda in a press release announcing his hiring.

Anthony Miranda, pictured, current police chief of Irwindale, was hired last week as Vernon’s newest police chief. (Courtesy of the City of Irwindale)

Anthony Miranda, pictured, current police chief of Irwindale, was hired last week as Vernon’s newest police chief. (Courtesy of the City of Irwindale)

Miranda has a bachelor’s degree in human services, is completing his master’s degree in public administration and has more than 25 years in law enforcement.

In 2015, Miranda founded the Pink Patch Project, an annual program where police agencies across the country help raise breast cancer awareness while sporting special pink patches. Last month, Miran-da joined the board of Pacific Clinics, the largest behavioral and healthcare agency in Southern Cali-fornia.

“With a successful track history of accountability and reform, we are confident that Chief Miranda is the right persons to building upon the Vernon Police Department’s record of success,” said City Administrator Carlos Fandino.

Calleros has served as Vernon’s Police Chief since 2012. He began his law enforcement career as a Vernon patrol officer before rising up the ranks. At the time, Vernon Mayor William Davis recognized Calleros for maintaining the city’s quick police response times despite budget cuts.

 

Vernon: A Changed City

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Listening to and responding to residents is one of the hallmarks of good government and creating connections that make that happen has the been the focus for the City of Vernon over the past five years. That’s why we wanted to follow-up to last week’s article, “Vernon Outreach: Work In Progress,” and provide a more complete picture of how the City of Vernon touches the lives of its residents every day.

First, ensuring that Vernon residents are heard at the ballot box is one of the City Council’s top priorities. Over the last two years, the City has held voter registration events at Vernon Village Apartments and the Sabor de Mexico Lindo celebration. The City has gone door-to-door to drop off mailers, speak with residents and has added new ballot drop-off locations to make voting more convenient. We’ve held community meetings and public meetings in the evening to ensure the public has a chance to be heard. While few residents attend the meetings, the hard work is paying off. Just two years ago, residents elected write-in candidate Leticia Lopez over a 42-year incumbent.

Second, the City has answered a regional need and made affordable housing more accessible. From Vernon Village Apartments to the City-owned single family residences sprinkled throughout the City, nearly all of Vernon’s housing is subsidized – giving residents the opportunity to rent high-quality homes in communities that boast one of the lowest crime rates in Southeast Los Angeles. Our housing lottery system ensures that everyone has equal opportunity and since the City is built out, we donate a million dollars a year to build libraries, parks and community centers in neighboring communities to serve our residents as well as our neighbors.

Third, the City of Vernon is also reaching out to our residents on a personal level. City staff volunteer at Vernon City Elementary School providing presentations on everything from engineering to groundwater supplies to Earth Day. Police officers walk through the school and communities multiple times a day to connect with residents and business owners. They deliver turkey dinners to nearly a quarter of the residents who have been identified as low income while firefighters hold fundraisers and blood drives. It’s our hope that through these everyday, casual encounters we can connect with the community, proactively address concerns as well as encourage the City’s people to get involved.

Finally, we continue to impact our residents and the region through jobs. The City has a growing economy with nationally and internationally recognized brands including Amazon, Whole Foods, Seven-Up/RC Bottling Company as well as up-and-coming green companies like Romeo Power. Thanks to Vernon’s business friendly atmosphere, these companies contribute more than 50,000 jobs and $4.4 Billion in wages annually to Los Angeles County.

Our goal is to grow jobs and grow our community.

The City of Vernon is changing and we invite our businesses and residents to get involved. We’ve expanded our communication efforts and invite you to join us on Tuesday, June 20th at the first of three community events planned at Vernon Village. The event will include presentations on City services and, more importantly, provide an opportunity for neighbors to get to know each other. Join us at Vernon Village or follow us on social media. Give us your feedback, ideas and, along with your elected representatives, help guide the change.

And don’t worry, we won’t forget the food and coffee!

Carlos Fandino is the City of Vernon’s city administrator. In that capacity, he oversees the city’s daily operations, public relations, legislative process and finances.

 

Crash Leaves 1 Dead, 1 Injured

May 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

VERNON (CNS) – One man was killed and another was injured when a vehicle
struck a power pole in Vernon, authorities said Monday.

It was reported at 11:41 p.m. Sunday in the 2300 block of Vernon Avenue, said Vernon police Sgt. Brandon Gray.

The passenger was pronounced dead at the scene and the driver was taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries, Gray said.

“We suspect DUI is involved,” he said. Power lines did not come down from the impact.

Vernon Avenue was closed between Santa Fe Avenue and Alameda Street for the investigation, Gray said.

Vernon Outreach: ‘Work in Progress’

May 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Since moving 3 years ago to the Vernon Village apartment complex, where half of Vernon’s residents live, Emilia Bernal says she has yet to attend a council meeting, vote in an election or speak with a city official. Her reason: She doesn’t feel a part of the industrial city.

Bernal has a long list of concerns and wishes the city would make it easier for residents like her to get involved by holding meetings at the apartment complex, preferably in the late afternoon or on the weekend when people are more likely to be home. With just 200 residents it should be easy to do, Bernal said Monday, explaining it’s hard to get to council meetings held at 9 a.m. on a weekday.

“It would be nice if they came out here once in a while, with coffee and treats.”

“You would think it would be less expensive than sending flyers,” agrees 32-year-old Edith Alarcon, who said she only hears from council members at election time.

The Vernon Village residents’ comments come as city officials looks for ways to engage residents in a city where there are nearly 20 times as many businesses and warehouses as there are households.

For years, Vernon officials welcomed their anonymity, preferring to do their work out of the public eye, behind closed doors at City Hall. With just 100 actual residents, it wasn’t hard to do.

City officials visit students at Vernon Elementary School Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

City officials visit students at Vernon Elementary School Monday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

But the city says times have changed; the number of residents has doubled and Vernon’s new crop of leaders is working to involve residents through special events and other forms of outreach.

On Monday, there were signs the invisible wall that once divided City Hall and the rest of the community could be coming down, as public works employees walked across the street to Vernon Elementary where they made a science presentation to students.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

City staff visiting classrooms is becoming a regular thing, boasted City Manager Carlos Fandino.

Principal Diane Espino told EGP these types of interactions, which have included visits from firefighters and police officers, help create a partnership between the city and the people it serves.

“Most parents work in the city and these children are part of the city’s daytime population,” said Espino, who hopes businesses in the city will be inspired to also invest in the small school.

“Our community is so small, it’s important not just for the city to come out but for our neighboring businesses to get to know who we are,” she said.

Mayor Melissa Ybarra and Councilwoman Yvette Woodruff-Perez last year told EGP they would like to see more recreational and cultural opportunities in Vernon, but on Tuesday Ybarra admitted the goal is still “a work in progress.”

“There’s room for improvement,” acknowledges Ybarra. “There’s a lot of ideas here and we’re doing them now.”

In the meantime, residents of Vernon Village, located on the city border, a stone’s throw from Maywood, say they feel isolated from what’s going on across the city at Vernon City Hall.

It’s hard to feel like Vernon is it’s own community, observed Erika Sianez,

“It would help if the city hosted holiday events or activities for our children, just so we start to get to know who they are,” she suggested.

Ybarra understands and says the city plans to host three different events this summer at the housing complex.

Councilwoman Leticia Lopez assures the council is listening, as are the members of the various city commissions that advocate for residents, which they can join. She notes that residents can always write a letter or email councilmembers if they cannot make it to a meeting.

Vernon’s new council members and department heads truly care about the community, and that’s why the city has hired an in-house public information officer to help improve city outreach, according to Fandino, who added, “It takes time” to get it all done.

There are 86 registered voters in the city, and last month, it took a mere 23 voters to derail a proposed utility user tax, crimping the industrial city’s plan for shoring up its budget shortfall. Fourteen people voted in favor.

It was a disappointing outcome, considering city staff had descended on Vernon Village to register more voters, but only succeeded in adding 10 people to voter rolls.

“If we know what’s going on in the city and they know what’s going on here, it would make us want to vote,” suggests Sianez.

Fandino sees a silver lining: the utility tax failing is proof democracy works in a city that many once believed had too few residents to properly govern itself.

Vernon is adding new tools to make the city more accessible, including a new social media presence and an emergency opt-in communication alert system to be rolled out later this month.

Vernon Village property manager and resident, Merna Tovar, says she has witnessed city officials attempt to reach out to residents without great results, but told EGP she thinks that will change as city sponsored events and meetings become more regular and residents begin to feel more like neighbors.

“[Residents] will come to the meetings,” she predicted, but warned city officials, “Just don’t forget to bring the coffee.”

 

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.

Former D.A., Attorney General John Van de Kamp Dies at 81

March 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Local and state officials Wednesday mourned the death of John Van de Kamp, the former Los Angeles County district attorney and California attorney general.

Van de Kamp died at his home in Pasadena Tuesday after a brief illness, the Los Angeles Times reported. He was 81.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey called Van de Kamp “one of the most ethical and kind-hearted people I’ve ever met.”

“He was an admired public servant who dedicated his life to seeking justice,” Lacey said, noting that Van de Kamp established one of the nation’s first victim services programs during his tenure as district attorney.

“On a personal note, I am thankful for John’s wisdom and gentle guidance throughout my tenure,” Lacey said. “I frequently sought his advice and looked up to him as a stalwart of the justice system. Like many, I mourn his passing, and I will miss his wisdom, his wit and his kindness.”

JVK

(City of Vernon)

Gov. Jerry Brown, who was also governor when Van de Kamp was district attorney, said “John was a wonderful public servant and had a real sense of justice.”

Said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger: “I am truly saddened by this news having just seen him recently. And while he’ll be remembered as an icon in county and state law and government and for his many years in public life, John Van de Kamp was also a great family man, and with his wife, Andrea, they were a powerhouse couple.”

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said he was “deeply saddened” by the death of his friend and mentor.

“An extraordinary leader of impeccable integrity, John never backed away from taking strong, principled stands on tough issues,” Feuer said.

“John was supremely effective at everything he did – always with a quiet confidence and devotion to public service that inspired generations of lawyers. My prayers are with Andrea and the Van de Kamp family at this difficult time.”

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Van de Kamp “lived for the values of justice and opportunity that define the state of California.

“I will forever be grateful for the confidence he showed in me from my earliest days of public service under his leadership at the California Department of Justice,” Becerra said. “Most recently, he was there for me again offering wise counsel, as I prepared to assume my role as attorney general of California.

“John understood the higher calling of public service. He performed for the people of California like few others.”

A graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford Law School, Van de Kamp was a federal public defender before becoming the county’s top prosecutor.

Van de Kamp was Los Angeles County’s district attorney from 1975-1983.

During his tenure, his office handled many high-profile cases including the Hillside Strangler murders.

Van de Kamp was California’s attorney general from 1983-91. In 1990, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, losing to Dianne Feinstein, who lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson.

Van de Kamp worked in private practice after leaving politics and remained active in environmental causes.

In 2011, he was retained to serve as Vernon’s independent ethics advisor as that city battled an effort by state lawmakers to dissolve it because of a corruption probe.

Van de Kamp’s role expanded and he was selected as the city’s independent special counsel in 2015, delivering his most recent biannual assessments of the city’s good governance practices on Jan. 31.

Vernon’s mayor and City Council members paid tribute to his service for the city Wednesday.

“It is with our deepest regard and respect that we mourn the passing of John Van de Kamp, a man who began as our trusted good governance advisor and, over time, became a dear friend to the people of Vernon and its vibrant business community,” Vernon Mayor William Davis said.

 

 

Vernon Ranked Among CA’s Most ‘Distressed Cities’

March 16, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

Citing Vernon’s ongoing budget deficit, debt obligation, pension contributions, unemployment rate, and property values, a recent report ranked Vernon as one of the state’s most distressed cities.

“While city utilities were profitable, they are heavily encumbered by debt,” Policy Analyst Marc Joffe writes in his report “California City And County Fiscal Strength Index – 2017 Update” published by the California Policy Center.

According to Joffe, the report’s findings are “based on empirical research that associates local government fiscal distress with weak revenue performance, high debt burdens and low or negative general fund balances.”

Using 2015 audits, the study assigned fiscal scores to every California city. The scores were based on the ratio of a city’s general fund balance to its expenditures, ratio of long-term obligations to government wide revenues, ratio of pension contributions to revenues, local unemployment rate and change in property values.

Of the 511 cities and counties analyzed, over 60 percent scored 90 or higher. Eight cities, including Vernon had scores below 50.

“If there’s another recession these cities are more vulnerable to bankruptcy than other cities,” Joffe told EGP.

Vernon reported revenues of $249 million in 2015, much of which is generated from the city-owned Vernon Gas and Electric utility. However, the city’s general fund was in the red by nearly $16 million, primarily = due to pension contributions and bond obligations.

Joffe compares a city’s general fund to a person’s checkbook, explaining a negative general fund balance is like an overdraft. He called such funding shortfalls a “prescription” for future problems that could lead to sudden cuts in services.

Vernon’s “debt is amazing considering how small the city is,” Joffe told EGP. “The key thing [for Vernon] is reducing debt and improving the general fund balance.”

Vernon’s City Administrator Carlos Fandino, however, says the report provides a “faulty assessment” of the city’s continued financial viability, business grown, employment strength and other key financial measurements.

“Vernon is far from being regarded as financially troubled, as our city’s annual audited financial statements will attest,” Fandino wrote in a statement to EGP.

But Joffe points to the $383 million in outstanding debts Vernon owed as of mid 2015, in addition to the over $5 million paid in pension contributions that year.

“The long-term obligation and pension contribution ratios provide insight into the government’s debt burden,” Joffe writes.

“The less debt relative to revenue, the better off you are,” he explained.

According to Fandino, Vernon faces the same fiscal challenges many other cities face with pension and retiree health obligations.

“Vernon has taken affirmative steps to address its responsibility to its retirees through the establishment of a trust,” he said.

Joffe suggested the city transfer more of its surplus monies from its enterprise accounts into its general fund, however, it was those types of transfers that led to Moody’s Investor Services last October downgrading Vernon’s bond rating to the lowest investment grade, citing the city’s reliance on general fund transfers.

Joffe tells EGP Vernon’s compensation classes are too high, and should not differ from other non-industrial municipalities.

Vernon has 271 city employees, but only an estimated 210 residents who call the city home. In another report, Joffe noted that employees are paid, on average, $107,838 per year, with several employees making more than $300,000 a year plus benefits.

“I’m not sure the services they provide to residents are any different than services provided in other cities,” Joffe told EGP. “A cop is a cop.”

On April 11, Vernon residents will vote on Measure Q, which if passed would increase the city’s utility users tax to generate more revenues to fund police, fire, and other public services,. The city says the tax will put an end to the city’s reliance on fund transfers.

“We know the passage of Measure Q will further improve Vernon’s standing with the State of California and better our city’s financial position on Wall Street,” Fandino argues in support of the measure.

Fandino noted that Vernon experienced $121.9 million in building activity in 2016, compared to $76 million in 2015.

“For a city the size of Vernon, that’s far from a picture of distress.”

Joffe told EGP the same study has been conducted nationwide in the country’s largest cities.

“We gather information and publish it,” he said. “The numbers don’t lie.”

 

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