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Vernon disincorporation measure clears key Senate committee

June 22, 2011 |  2:09 pm

Photo: Assembly Speaker John Pérez. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Assembly Speaker John Pérez on Wednesday moved another step closer to disbanding the city of Vernon as a key state Senate committee backed his disincorporation bill on a 6-3 vote.

The bill, considered to be the first-ever attempt by the Legislature to dissolve a charter city, now moves to the full Senate, where it could be voted on in the next few weeks. The Assembly has already overwhelmingly approved it.

If approved and signed into law, the measure would eliminate Vernon's municipal government and replace it with a new special district overseen by Los Angeles County.

Pérez has argued that the legislation, AB 46, is the only way to end corruption in Vernon, an industrial city with about 1,800 businesses but fewer than 100 residents. Three Vernon officials have been indicted on public-corruption charges in recent years, and critics have for decades claimed the city is a fiefdom controlled by a small group of individuals.

"There is no independent electorate here," Perez said to the Senate committee. "So it comes to the Legislature to respond. ... The question falls squarely on our shoulders."

Vernon city officials have been fighting to defeat AB 46 along with a coalition of business and labor groups who say the bill would lead to a loss in jobs. They also argue it would violate the state Constitution.

In response, Pérez has introduced a companion bill, AB 781, that would establish the new district and provide specific protections for Vernon businesses once the area becomes a part of Los Angeles County.

The senate Governance and Finance Committee is expected to address AB 781 at its next meeting. If it does not pass, the disincorporation bill would not proceed to the Senate floor.

During the debate, members of the committee said they would not approve Perez's legislation unless it addressed their economic concerns.

"Los Angeles County has a terrible unemployment population, and we can't afford to have the unemployment rise," said state Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale). "I may vote on it today -- just today -- but it's not a guarantee that we'll go forward if the second bill doesn't come back and really protect the businesses and the people who work at those businesses."

AB 46 received strong bipartisan support in the Assembly, but the Senate committee was divided along party lines. Liu voted in favor along with five other Democrats, while three Republican senators -- Doug La Malfa, Robert Huff and Jean Fuller -- voted against.

Fred MacFarlane, a spokesman for Vernon, said the city and its lobbyists would redouble their efforts to communicate with the senators in the coming weeks.

"While also being unconstitutional, this legislation would do harm to the engine of the L.A. County economy," MacFarlane said in an interview after the vote. "It would be like turning the ignition off your car when you're driving down the freeway at 70 miles per hour."


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-- Sam Allen and Kate Mather

Photo: Assembly Speaker John Pérez. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press