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Despite setbacks, Assembly Speaker Perez aims to disband Vernon

August 26, 2011 |  1:37 pm

Assembly Speaker John Perez will push forward in his bid to disband the city of Vernon despite a loss of support in the state Senate this week, his spokesman said.

Perez (D-Los Angeles) plans to bring the disincorporation bills up for a final vote before the Legislature's session ends Sept. 9, spokesman John Vigna said Friday. The city of about 100 residents has been dogged by a series of corruption scandals in recent years and Perez argues it lacks an independent electorate.

Earlier this week, state Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) withdrew his support for the disincorporation plan over concerns about the effect it would have on the many businesses in the industrial city just south of downtown L.A. De Leon instead called for a series of governmental reforms, which the Vernon City Council unanimously supported at a special meeting Thursday.

Perez remains "deeply skeptical" that Vernon can reform on its own, Vigna said.

"Vernon has had such a long history of saying or doing whatever they have to do to survive," Vigna said. "These are not real reforms and they're not going to solve the real problems."

Critics argue that Vernon has for decades been run as a fiefdom by a small group of leaders. The city owns nearly all of the homes and apartments within its borders, and many of the residents have close ties to city leaders. In the last six years, three top Vernon officials have been convicted on public corruption charges.

Perez has authored two separate bills to disband Vernon. AB 46 would dissolve the city's government within 90 days of its passage, making it an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. A companion bill, AB 781, would form a new special district, overseen by the County Board of Supervisors, to take over Vernon's power utility and fire department.

The disincorporation plan, which received strong support in the state Assembly, has been met with more resistance in the upper house. The city of Vernon and a coalition of local business and labor leaders have lobbied aggressively against it throughout the year.

Perez is now focusing on gathering votes in the Senate and securing the support of Los Angeles County officials, who have expressed concerns over the financial effect of AB 781, Vigna said. The county still has not taken a position on the bill, although it originally supported disincorporation.

"Our challenge is to get the Senate to focus on the long-term problem here and not the short-term, window-dressing reforms they've put forward," Vigna said. "We have until Sept. 9 to do that and we're going to keep working until the last minute."

De Leon's recommendations included new housing development that would double the city's population, the appointment of an independent reform monitor and creation of an Environmental and Community Benefit Fund.

Vernon has also approved pay cuts for city leaders and formed an independent commission to oversee city-owned homes and apartments.

"Vernon can and will become a model city and should not be disincorporated," said Mayor Hilario Gonzales, who has been on the City Council for the last 37 years.

In addition to De Leon, State Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) announced support for the reform plan Friday. Other senators were expected to attend a rally in Vernon this afternoon, city spokesman Fred MacFarlane said.


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-- Sam Allen

Photo:  A Vernon billboard near downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Ruben Vives / Los Angeles Times