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L.A. County supervisors to consider new limits on who can live in Vernon

November 9, 2010 |  1:53 pm


Los Angeles County supervisors next week will consider pursuing legislation that would drastically reduce Vernon's historic control over who gets to live and vote in the tiny city, marking the latest effort by outsiders to make changes to the industrial enclave south of downtown L.A.

The proposal calls for an amendment to the California Constitution that would direct that no more than 10% of a charter city's owned or controlled housing can be occupied by city employees, or by people whose connections to city hall could constitute a conflict of interest.

Though Vernon has only about 90 residents, almost all of them have close relationships to the city's government and to the people who run the well-heeled, almost exclusively industrial town just south of downtown L.A. Critics have argued that the arrangement has kept control of Vernon in the hands of a ruling few, including some of the most lucratively paid officials in the state.

The city has been able to weather repeated criminal investigations, and its council members -- some of them in office for more than 30 years -- rarely face contested elections.

"The city's 90 or so residents eligible to vote reside in city-owned housing and are financially beholden to those in power," said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who drafted the proposal. "A permanent solution is required so that those that vote for the city's future, or the city's future leaders, are independent voters not beholden to the Vernon city government."

Molina's proposal comes two weeks after Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley suggested that Vernon be disincorporated, arguing that it might be the only way to end the decades of control by a small group of people and repeated allegations of public corruption. Last month, Donal O'Callaghan, the city's former administrator, was indicted by an L.A. grand jury on charges of conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds involving two contracts the city established with his wife.

The Times revealed this summer that several Vernon officials have made $500,000 to more than $1 million a year, with Eric T. Fresch, a former city administrator and city attorney now paid as a legal consultant, making $1.6 million in 2008.

In the past, city officials have populated Vernon's mostly city-owned housing, with employees arguing that they were needed nearby in case of an emergency. But in the last few years, Vernon has replaced many of these workers with family members, friends and other close acquaintances of the city’s councilmen and top officials, including relatives of Fresch, O'Callaghan and the current city administrator, Mark Whitworth.

Vernon officials could not immediately reached for comment. In the past, officials have said there is no need to make changes in the city and that businesses in the city are pleased with the services they receive.

-- Hector Becerra and Sam Allen

Photo: The view from Vernon. Credit: Los Angeles Times