Not many people live in Vernon, but a lot of people work there. They turned out in big numbers to support the existence of L.A.'s big little city.
The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday backed off a proposal to annex Vernon, and instead endorsed proposed state legislation that would dis-incorporate the industrial city and make it part of Los Angeles County.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn agreed to drop the annexation proposal after Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, vowed to tweak his bill to ensure that no jobs would be lost in Vernon once the government is dissolved.
Hahn said annexation is "off the table today, (as) that is not what I believe is in our best interest at this point."
Perez's bill, AB 46, calls for the "involuntary dissolution" of cities with fewer than 150 residents. Vernon is the only city in California meeting that criteria, with fewer than 100 residents.
Perez said he authored the bill because of the "unprecedented and unequaled level of corruption" in Vernon.
He noted the city's last mayor was in office for 50 years, stepped down after being accused of voter fraud, but now collects an annual pension of nearly $510,000. He said the city does not have an independent electorate, because officials "handpick" the residents of the city, and intimidate outsiders wanting to move in.
"(Vernon officials) have used this city as a private operation to benefit themselves," Perez said. "In any other city if this occurred, you'd see a popular uprising from the people, calling for the removal of these corrupt individuals, but because Vernon has no independent electorate, it falls upon us in the Legislature to take this action."
Hundreds of people who live and/or work in Vernon filled the City Council chamber, taking positions both for and against AB 46.
A group called Save Vernon Jobs, composed mostly of Vernon business owners and Teamsters union members, rallied on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday morning.
They issued a statement that "Thousands of jobs would be put in peril if the Speaker's unconstitutional and personally motivated legislation is successful."
Hahn urged Perez to protect Vernon's 1,800 employers and 50,000 workers by tweaking AB 46 to "ensure the stability of electrical generation rates, public safety services, land use regulations and the current business tax structure."
Perez agreed, and that was enough to convince the council to endorse the amended proposal, which is still being drafted.
In a statement on the city's website, Vernon officials said, "The Legislature has no authority to strip local voters of their constitutional right to determine whether or not their city charter should be repealed."
Vernon, which takes up about 5.2 square miles southeast of downtown, was incorporated in 1905. It is bounded by Los Angeles, Commerce, Bell, Maywood and Huntington Park.
All of its voters live in city-owned housing for which they pay below-market rent, and critics contend the arrangement influences how they vote.
Several Vernon officials have earned between $500,000 and $1 million a year since 2005, with former city attorney and city administrator Eric T. Fresch making as much as $1.65 million in 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported. The officials traveled first-class on trips to New York and Europe and stayed at luxury hotels, according to The Times.
Three years ago, Vernon's longtime mayor was charged with voter fraud and the city administrator was charged with public corruption. Prosecutors said then-mayor Leonis Malburg lived in a mansion in Hancock Park and lied for years about living in Vernon. He was eventually convicted of various corruption and fraud charges and sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay $579,000 in fines and restitution.
Bruce Malkenhorst, the former city administrator, awaits trial on charges that he misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars.