How do you ensure the protection of 50,000 jobs? That is the task Assembly Speaker John Perez has set out for himself as he pushes his bill (AB 46) to see the disincorporation of the City of Vernon in Los Angeles County.
Vernon is an industrial city with only 91 residents but a work force of 50,000. City officials have been caught up in corruption focusing on huge salaries and pensions that rival those in the near-by City of Bell. Additional scandals are centered on the city’s governance. No elections were held in Vernon from 1984 to 2006 and when one did occur, the city clerk refused to count the ballots for six months. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca called Vernon a “rogue city” supported by voters who are picked by elected officials.
Perez, who represents the area in the Assembly, thinks the way to end the corruption is to end the city’s existence and to fold the five-square mile territory into Los Angeles County. Business interests and labor groups in Vernon oppose the bill claiming that the city provides low energy costs and tax rates, while providing excellent services. Business leaders say if the City of Vernon disappears, costs will go up forcing many businesses to cut jobs or pull up stakes and look for a better business environment.
Jobs is the crux of the debate. Perez, a former union official, said he is sensitive to the jobs question and that he will write protections for the jobs, low energy costs, and other items that attract business to Vernon in the final draft of his bill.
I’m not sure how you can write a bill to protect jobs. If that could be done the legislature would probably already have done so in the face of California’s 12-percentage point unemployment figures.
But, the Los Angeles City Council has faith that Perez can find the key to preserving jobs and at the same time dissolve the city. By a 12-0 vote the council voted to support the bill as long as the Speaker amends it to ensure the jobs will remain.
Perez said bills are being drafted to protect the jobs and preserve low energy rates for businesses in Vernon.
Of course, the City of Los Angeles may have another reason for supporting the dissolution of Vernon – eyeing its rich business tax base. Annexation of Vernon was originally part of the resolution in support of AB 46. The annexation issue was pulled from the resolution, but the prospect will remain an option.
The Speaker spent three hours in the Los Angeles City Council chambers yesterday listening to arguments pro and con about dissolving the city.
Members of the business community argued that things are working well in Vernon from a business perspective, and the legislature should leave well enough alone. They argued that the city’s scandalous activity is at an end and offered to work with the Speaker on dealing with governance concerns.
Supporters of the bill, many of whom were there to praise Perez, argued that Vernon caused environmental problems and drew resources from neighboring communities.
Vernon was set up as an industrial city to house industries that were not necessarily welcomed in other locales. However, business leaders said Vernon follows all federal and state environmental laws and is no more an environmental problem than any other city in the county.
Perez’s view that Vernon is unlike any other city because the city government is both landlord (offering cheap rents) and employer to most of the residents is the basis of his argument that his bill will survive any legal challenges.
A legal opinion claims that disincorporation can only occur by a vote of the residents, not by legislative statute. Perez counters that Vernon is an extraordinary situation because there are no independent voters in Vernon. He says you would expect independent voters to react in the face of the corruption much like the residents of Bell.
Absent an ability of the voters to act, Perez says, the government can act. He asserted that there is legal precedent, including a United States Supreme Court case, that allows for disincorporation even if city residents object.
Perez has 69 co-authors in the Assembly and 23 in the Senate. But the ultimate success of his bill will be if Perez convinces all parties that he can protect the jobs and the current business environment if his bill passes. In these tough economic times that’s a tall order.