The state Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would dissolve the city of Vernon.
The bill, which is the first known attempt by legislature to disincorporate a charter city, was passed on a vote of 60 to 7.
The legislation was authored by Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), who described a “pattern of unprecedented corruption” in Vernon, a city of fewer than 100 residents. He vowed that his bill would create a more open government in the 5.2-square-mile industrial enclave and protect the 1,800 businesses located there.
“Members, we have an absolute obligation to make sure that we have transparent and accountable government at every level in the state of California,” he said.
Thursday’s debate also marked the first opposition to the bill from other legislators. Those urging a “no” vote included Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), Curt Hagman (R-Chino Hills) and Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). The three said they feared Perez’s bill would cause a loss in jobs.
“We cannot afford to continue an assault on private business,” Grove said, adding that she wanted Perez to consider other methods of addressing problems in Vernon’s government.
In response, Perez again promised to add amendments to the bill to preserve the city’s utility rates and zoning. Vernon operates a municipal power business and has throughout its history accommodated heavy industry and manufacturing. A coalition of local business and labor groups have also opposed the bill, saying it would damage Vernon’s unique business climate.
But Perez also called the jobs argument a “scare-tactic” being used by the city and its team of lawyers and lobbyists in its attempts to derail the bill. His supporters echoed that claim.
“This bill is about attacking political corruption, and I think we all should be standing on that side,” said Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim). “Who’s to say that if we change the political environment, businesses won’t do better?”
Other representatives argued that Vernon’s municipal government should be eliminated because the city lacks an independent electorate. Most of its voters live in city-owned housing, they said, which prevents them from challenging city officials.
“We have the opportunity to make a statement to the people of California that corruption will not be tolerated,” said Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita), the bill’s principal co-author.
The bill now moves to the state senate. It could be voted into law as early as September.