The City of Vernon, located just south of Downtown Los Angeles, has less than 100 full-time residents and its motto is “Exclusively Industrial.” That motto took hold in the early 1920s when stockyards and meat packing plants were the backbone of the city. Later, major companies such as U.S. Steel, Alcoa Inc., General Mills, and the Studebaker Assembly Plant defined Vernon, until recent years when BCBG Max Azria, Farmer John, Tapatio Hot Sauce, True Religion Apparel Inc. and Papa Cantella’s Sausage became the modern face of this jobs Mecca.
Vernon offers a unique mix of benefits for industry. Its city-owned utility provides water and power rates below those of neighboring cities. Its zoning code allows for industrial operations that other local cities do not offer. Red tape is virtually non-existent and businesses have access to first-rate police and fire services. In total, Vernon is home to 50,000 jobs and a cumulative $4.5 billion annual payroll.
However, as the Los Angeles Times has pointed out on many occasions, Vernon is unique for another very unattractive reason. Its city leaders, including a family in power for more than 50 years, have been mired in questionable practices and charges of public corruption. A former city administrator draws a $500,000 pension — the highest in the state — and currently faces his own corruption charges. Many of the less than 100 residents are handpicked to live in subsidized city housing in exchange for their votes. All of that is wrong and a clear sign that Vernon is in dire need of reforms and transparency.
California State Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who represents Vernon in the Legislature, introduced AB 46, which would disincorporate Vernon and turn it over to the County of Los Angeles and perhaps a future annexation by a neighboring city. We commend and appreciate the Speaker’s focus on rooting out corruption, but AB 46 runs the danger of “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” Businesses in Vernon and their employees are very concerned because they have not seen any safeguards that their businesses will be able to operate in the future with the regulatory and financial certainty they have in the past. Both business and organized labor share the same concerns about these jobs and oppose AB 46.
The business community in Vernon, led by the Vernon Chamber of Commerce, is proposing a series of major changes to the City charter which will dramatically transform how the City of Vernon is governed. We believe that these initiatives should be given the opportunity to play out before the State Legislature takes any action on the disincorporation of Vernon.
The current elected officials in Vernon are well aware that dramatic changes must be made. They should sit down with Speaker Pérez and Vernon’s major employers to discuss the recommendations of the Vernon Chamber of Commerce and agree to a set of charter reforms that clean up the City and retain 50,000 jobs. The citizens, economy and tax base of Los Angeles County would all be winners.