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Assembly speaker, demonstrators face off over Vernon cityhood

March 1, 2011 | 10:22 am

Protest
As Assembly Speaker John Perez wheeled through Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday morning to promote a bill that would to dissolve the city government of Vernon, critics of the proposal gathered on the lawn outside to voice their opposition to the legislation.

Save Vernon Jobs, a group of Vernon businesses and labor unions, say the measure would put thousands of jobs at risk and argue that the state has no legal authority to disincorporate the city.

Vernon has been fighting to keep its cityhood since Perez in December introduced AB 46, a bill that would dissolve city's government and make it an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County.

Inside City Hall, Perez was joined by supporters, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sheriff Lee Baca and county Supervisors Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Perez accused Vernon officials of playing on people's fears of lost jobs, and wielding an arsenal of high-priced lobbyists and lawyers. But he expressed confidence in support for his bill, adding that 69 members of the Assembly and 23 state senators have signed on as coauthors.

"For years, officials in that city have operated with a shocking lack of transparency and accountability," Perez said. "The city is landlord and employer for virtually the entire electorate, so that they can make decisions that waste taxpayer dollars and put jobs at risk with no regard for the will of the voters. That is unacceptable."

Molina added that "the so-called city of Vernon has been masquerading as a city, when really in fact it's nothing but a company town." And Baca called the industrial town of about 90 residents "a rogue city" that picks and chooses who keeps elected leaders in power.

Outside, about 50 Vernon workers, business leaders and Teamsters rallied near the entrance of City Hall. Many wore hard hats and uniforms. Some held signs that said "Save Vernon Jobs" and "Mr. Speaker, Don't take my job." Another sign said, "Reform Vernon, Don't Erase It."

Jim Smith, a member of Teamsters Local 396, said he feared Perez's bill would cause a loss of jobs.

"We feel that if the city annexes Vernon, Teamsters' employers will have to leave the area," he said. "Obviously there are reasons behind the bill, but we think there are better solutions." The Teamsters want an economic study before any decisions are made, he said.

In a news release, Perez’s office says the bill has wide-ranging support and would "end decades of corruption and abuse that threaten the community's ability to maintain jobs and business." The legislation stems from a series of corruption scandals in the city in recent years, including the indictment of Vernon's former city administrator last year.

Critics have said the community has been controlled for decades by a small cadre of families and their associates. The city is home to about 1,800 businesses that employ about 50,000 workers from around the region.

Perez's bill would effectively eliminate Vernon city government by mandating that any city with fewer than 150 residents disincorporate. Vernon is the only city in California that fits that description.

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Photo: Save Vernon Jobs, a group of Vernon businesses and labor unions, rally against AB 46 outside Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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