The state Senate today blocked a push by Assembly Speaker John A Pérez to eliminate the city of Vernon.
Assembly Bill 46 sought to disincorporate any California city with fewer than 150 residents -- criteria met only by the tiny industrial city represented by Pérez. It fell eight votes short of passage today on the Senate floor, on a 13-17 vote.
Pérez has made axing the city one of his top priorities this year, saying it is the best way address allegations of corruption in a city that is home to fewer than 100 residents but more than 1,000 businesses. Under his proposal, Vernon would become an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County.
Pérez issued a statement blasting the Senate and its Democratic members, saying the upper house "chose to ignore decades of corruption in Vernon."
"The fact is clear: Senators (Ron) Calderon and (Kevin) De León, along with their colleagues, have given Vernon a free pass to continue doing business as usual, and those senators will own the responsibility for any misdeeds that may occur in the future."
Democratic Sen. Los Wolk, who presented the bill on the floor, appealed to members to consider what she called Vernon's "extraordinary record" of abuses and corruption.
"There is no independent electorate in Vernon that can stand up against the corruption and mismanagement in the city," the Davis Democrat said of city's small population.
Opponents, including local Vernon officials and labor and business groups with ties to the city, had argued that dissolving the city could would jeopardize the health of the businesses providing jobs for tens of thousands of area residents. They also said they were concerned by the precedent set by the Legislature acting to eliminate a city.
The Senate vote on the measure city came days after the Vernon City Council voted to adopt a package of reforms aimed at providing more oversight of the city proposed by state Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles. De Leon, who also represents Vernon, recently withdrew his support of Pérez's bill, saying the city should have a chance to enact its own changes before facing disincorporation.
"You simply do not build something with a sledgehammer. It's not that simple," De Leon said, adding: "(Vernon) unquestionably has had well chronicled problems, but this is not the way out."
Several Democratic senators speaking on the floor cited the De Leon-backed changes in their opposition to the bill, some suggesting that a provision be added to trigger disincorporation only if those reforms are not fully implemented.
"I think transparency is a good thing and I support that, but if you read these reforms, they're serious, they're real, and there is a way, in my opinion, (for) monitoring these reforms and seeing them through," said Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.
Only one Republican, Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark, voted for the bill. Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said he felt the Legislature hit a "slippery slope when you begin to change the rules to disincorporate one city."
"If I were the legislator that represented this area I would want to be more involved in solutions, not just disincorporating the area," he said.
The bill was approved by the Assembly this year by a 62-7 vote.