Make Vernon a Special District

Ralph E. Shaffer
Professor Emeritus of History at Cal Poly Pomona

Peter Corselli, official of a long-established Vernon industry, is right
to worry about the effect that passage of AB 46, the bill to
disincorporate Vernon, will have on businesses located there. The
vultures, in the form of annexationists, are already drooling. If the
end result of dissolving the city must be annexation, the bill would be
a disaster.

But there is another option. Disincorporate Vernon and simultaneously
turn it into the Vernon Industrial Special District. That special
district will provide Vernon with a government that gives business
owners and labor the security, stability and certainty that they
currently enjoy without the rule of a self-perpetuating cabal that has
run that city for over a century.

California has thousands of special districts for mosquito abatement,
flood control, libraries and dozens of other services. Surely it would
be common sense for the legislature to establish a Vernon Industrial
Special District, dedicated to promoting industry, as the city is
disincorporated.

Few special districts have the power of a city government. But some do,
and one of them is the precedent for what Vernon could become. Kern
County’s Bear Valley Community Services District does everything a city
can do yet it is unincorporated.

The new Vernon district would provide the public safety, utilities, and
other city functions that Corselli wants. That would allay the fears of
Corselli and other business owners and at the same time remove the
stigma long associated with Vernon’s government.

Who would be the constituents in the special district? Steve Freed,
speaking as head of a Vernon business association, insists that if the
city survives, property owners should have the right to vote even
though none of them live there. He has a point. Property worth billions
shouldn’t be at the mercy of a mere 90 residents whose voting rights are
dictated by a much smaller clique.

However, not all of Vernon’s 1800 businesses owned their land or
buildings. Many rent or lease the facilities they occupy. If absentee
property owners can vote, shouldn’t those who own no land but run a
business there be enfranchised as well? It isn’t land owners who create
Vernon’s wealth. It’s the businesses operating on that land. Neither
group can vote in Vernon now. In the special district, both land and
business owners should be enfranchised.

But they aren’t the only people who have a stake in what happens in
Vernon. Every day 50,000 or more workers pour into Vernon, then return
at night to nearby cities. They, too, have an interest in Vernon. If
1800 business owners get to vote, shouldn’t those 50,000 workers, whose
mortgages, retirement and day-to-day living needs are tied to their
Vernon jobs, have a voice in district government? To deny workers voting
rights would really create a “fiefdom,” a term that is regularly applied
to the way Vernon is run today.

The Vernon Industrial Special District is truly that “idea whose time
has come.” It will prove that business doesn’t need a handful of Vernon
oligarchs to provide a pro-business environment.

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