Speaker John Pérez is changing his strategy in the battle to shut down the small industrial city of Vernon.
Pérez has been at war with Vernon for six months, arguing that disincorporating the city is the only way to end its long history of corruption and excessive salaries.
The original plan was to turn the city over to the county of L.A., but that met with a howl of protest from labor groups and business owners, who feared that would mean the loss of thousands of jobs.
So Pérez has changed course…
Today, the Speaker's office submitted language to set up a “community services district” in Vernon's place, said John Vigna, Pérez's spokesman. The district would provide police, fire and other basic city services. The Speaker's office said it would also protect local zoning rules and maintain Vernon's low taxes and utility rates — thus protecting jobs.
“The district will be empowered to provide all the same services that the city is, without the need for corrupt officials running the city,” Vigna said.
Whoever runs the district would be appointed by the county Board of Supervisors, Vigna said. That provision is almost certain not to satisfy Vernon businesses, who fear that the county will have no reason to leave Vernon's zoning and low taxes in place.
“It amounts to little more than a bait and switch attempt by the Speaker to try to appeal to businesses and labor representatives in Vernon and get them to withdraw their opposition,” said Fred MacFarlane, Vernon's spokesman. “I don't see them changing their position.”
Vernon's lawyers maintain that it is unconstitutional to shut down the city against its will.
Pérez has been promising for months to offer amendments to his bill, AB 46, to help protect Vernon's industrial job base. But instead, the Speaker will leave AB 46 as it is. The “amendments” will be contained in a separate bill, AB 781, which was originally about agricultural preserves.
According to a Capitol source, the purpose of that maneuver is to ward off a constitutional challenge to AB 46. It is unconstitutional for legislation to target a particular entity. (That would be a “bill of attainder,” in legal jargon). As AB 46 is written, it does not target the city of Vernon, but all cities with a population under 150. Vernon just happens to be the only city that fits that description.
But amending AB 46 to establish an alternate governance structure for Vernon would make it all too clear that the purpose of the bill is to target Vernon alone. That, in turn, could make the bill unconstitutional on its face. So the Speaker's office elected to leave AB 46 as it stands, while gutting and amending AB 781.
Asked about that, Vigna said the issues were separated into two bills because “we feel there's two distinct policy questions here.”
“One is a broader philosophical disincorporation measure,” he said. “The other is the nuts and bolts of the successor government. It's better to put those into two separate vehicles.”