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Tilting at Windmills

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February 12, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

VERNON....This doesn't have any national implications or anything, but just for fun you might want to read today's story in the LA Times about one of Los Angeles's most peculiar institutions: the city of Vernon, a municipality with fewer than 60 registered voters most of them city employees that hasn't had an election since 1980. Here's what happened recently to three newcomers who tried to move into the city and run for office:

Within days, city utility trucks had turned off their power. The building they shared was slapped with red tags by inspectors who said the property was "unsafe and dangerous" as a residence. Strobe lights flashed through their windows. They and some of their relatives were placed under surveillance. Shortly, city police and other officials drilled holes in the locks and evicted the would-be office-seekers.

Having deprived the interlopers of city residence, Vernon officials on Jan. 27 disqualified them from the ballot.

Charming, no?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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The crack about this not having national implications was sarcastic, non?

Posted by: Kenji on February 12, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

but..... um...... how come?

what's the point of telling us this unless you explain what it's all about?

is this, like, a CIA Black Op village or something?

Posted by: fingerfood on February 12, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, it is one of those eye-openers. How many more mini banana republics are hiding in the metropolis? What I don't get is why there is a need for an "industry only" city? It sounds like a city designed for corruption from the beginning.

Posted by: spiny on February 12, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Where's the anti-Bush angle?

Posted by: fred on February 12, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

But Kevin, don't you think it's a story for whom nobody comes out smelling like a rose?

Those newcomers appear to be just another set of swindlers taking advantage of Vernon's special situation. Hardly the reformers they'd like to think of themselves as. How unfair is that?

And how long has the state or county been aware of this situation and decided to do nothing about it?

Can a municipality actually tell someone they can't move into town?

This just had me slapping my forehead from start to finish.


Posted by: Rich on February 12, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Newark, CA, in the East Bay of the SF Bay Area has a similar world of political "stability." They regularly cancel elections as no one ever runs. It's not quite like Vernon, it's bigger for one thing, but it does seem to do all that it can to prevent change. The East Bay Express did an article on it within the year, I believe.

Posted by: DC1974 on February 12, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

That was why James Madison wanted the constitution. He said local govts were too subject to control by petty tyrants, so we needed a well-structured federal government where democracy might thrive.

Hey, don't shoot the messenger.

Posted by: Buce on February 12, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

"industry only city"

Try moving into the City of Industry, further east of Vernon straddling the Pomona Freeway, and attempt to run for office against a Ferrero family member.

Check out the kickback scheme in the early 80s, where one of the early founders with Ferrero, James Stamford was sentenced to three years for kickbacks in the building of the Industry Hills Convention Center and Sheraton Hotel. Quite a few contractors spent many a sleepless night during that time.

Industry cities are quite lucrative in California. Ever watch a McDonald's commercial? Filmed at a non-operating McDonalds facility in the City of Industry. Funny to see young kids pulling up there for "Big Macs" and wondering why it is not open.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 12, 2006 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Considering all that was done to them, they should feel lucky that they didn't end up in the Dougherty Packing Plant of Farmer Johns in Vernon. Could have become sausage.

Posted by: stupid git on February 12, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

I read an interesting story about a corrupt municipality in Ohio that existed almost solely as a speed trap was notorious for arresting people to force them to pay even the most petty fines. The city government positions (including the police and courts) were all held by one family, which had illegally prevented challengers in elections.
It turned out that Ohio had a state law that allowed the courts to disband city governments that were judged to be corrupt. A group of disgruntled citizens filed suit, it took years but eventually the government was disbanded. The police cars got locked up, the court building (a trailer) was seized, and when the records were examined, of course it was discovered that the city officials were all embezzlers.
We need more laws like this. Maybe even at the Presidential level.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on February 12, 2006 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

Vernon was a seedy area of Los Angeles even in the early part of the 20th century, and had a team in the Pacific Coast League beginning in 1909, which moved to Venice, Calif., for a few seasons before going back to Vernon. Why those municipalities? According to the SportsHollywood.com Web site, "Venice and Vernon were the only towns in Los Angeles County where one could buy a bottle of liquor."

In 1919, actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle bought the Tigers (although he sold the team before his 1921 scandal). The team won three straight PCL pennants from 1918-20, but suffered declining attendance thereafter and eventually moved to San Francisco in 1925 as the Mission team. However, it wound up in southern California again in 1938 as the Hollywood Stars.

Posted by: Vincent on February 12, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Detour from thread - Venice, CA, where Orson Welles filmed "Touch of Evil" with Heston and Janet Leigh.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 12, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Industry, Irwindale and Vernon are the closest thing to feudal city-states that we have here in SoCal. The have very few residents, a amazing amount of redevelopment money and a strong tax base obtained by keeping the jobs and making the surrounding cities provide the public services for the workers. Currently Industry is emulating Los Angeles' Owen Lake tradition by purchasing land outside of city borders to build reserviors, in this case for power generation.


Posted by: Jim 7 on February 12, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

That's the Thomas Jefferson clan for you, real snobbish.

Posted by: Matt on February 12, 2006 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Democratic guvmint workers.

Is there anything they can't do?

Posted by: Birkel on February 12, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

What would you do if you were mayor Kevin?

With a little effort we could make it happen (or at least get some armed private investigators to sit outside your house).

Posted by: ranaaurora on February 12, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Industry, Irwindale, Vernon... what about the City of Commerce right next door to Vernon?

Posted by: G. Jones on February 12, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

I bet Vernon is stockpiling WMD's.

Posted by: digamma on February 12, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Municipalities that don't regularly have elections usually lose their status as municipalities. A friend of mine once tried to run for mayor of a city that didn't regularly have a mayor. The state intervened and said, Gimme a break. If Vernon hasn't had an election in 26 years, it's probably no longer an actual legal entity.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on February 12, 2006 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Columbus, Ohio had a suburb exactly like this, until a year or two ago. It was called New Rome. It took up two blocks of West Broad Street. It finally did itself in by issuing too many speeding tickets. One of the (approximately six) residents voted himself the town's police force and sat out there with a radar gun, all day, every day, netting a couple of hundred Gs a year. It was a very sweet racket for a long time but the State finally squashed it like a bug after they ticketed the wrong person, viz. someone high up at the newspaper. (When the Columbus Dispatch decides you're going down, you're going down, and you're going down very hard indeed. Readers with WAY too much time on their hands might enjoy googling "Palmer McNeal", or "Jesse Oddi", or--more cryptically--"Morse-Bethel Connector".)

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on February 12, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Shit, where is David Lynch when you *really* need 'em?


Posted by: rmck1 on February 12, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

My brother lived in New Rome for a few years. I visited a few times and thought the neighborhood was lovely and close enough to Columbus proper so you could enjoy both a quiet home life and the city.

Posted by: MarkH on February 12, 2006 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

The gated city of Bradbury, California has about 900 residents and elects its five-person City Council by district, not at large. And since they only redistrict every 10 years, it isn't that hard for the districts to become inequitably sized if a few people move and the people buying the homes don't register to vote in Bradbury.

Vernon has to be a real city.

It's even got a website
extolling its virtues.

Posted by: Bob Timmermann on February 12, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Being from the L.A. area, I heard about this city many years ago. My understanding at the time was that it had NO residents, so this fits pretty well. Their website says they have a top rated fire department: with a substantial industry base for taxation, and fewer than 100 residents, I think I could put one together as well...

Posted by: DK2 on February 12, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

The New Rome follies are well-known around our state. There are also little burgs like Linndale that straddle Interstate highways and make a small mint off of tagging speeders there. The statehouse got sick of that and revoked the ticketing rights for anyone with less than a mile of freeway to cover, only to have the law annuled in court.

(Though in Linndale's defense, they do hold elections and cover a few blocks of housing, so its not a real fiefdom like Vernon or New Rome.)

Posted by: Dustbin Of History on February 12, 2006 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing substantive to say, but here's a link to the photos of the totally cool mural at the slaughterhouse in Vernon.

Posted by: godoggo on February 12, 2006 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin's lack of reading capability: "contested election". Like a lot of places, they elect the pig-in-the-poke, favorite son, etc. This isn't all that unusual.

A place that actually had NO elections for two decades would be bizzare.

Posted by: loser on February 12, 2006 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Timmermann,

Ah, Bradbury - Many a fine Santa Anita stock has laid up there to be freshened. Charlie Whittingham lived there for years - Richard Mandella has a place there for his horses - True horse people in that area -

Posted by: thethirdPaul on February 12, 2006 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK

No contested election vs. no election

What's the difference?

I assume a two candidate race would qualify as a contested election and it sounds like they don't bother printing ballots when there is only one candidate.

Posted by: B on February 13, 2006 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder if this is playing big in the Los Angeles area. If it is, I expect the municipality of Vernon to be wiped off the map in short order.

Posted by: tam1MI on February 13, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm still reading the article, but I don't get why those 60 residents would be so worried about outsiders to resort to crude devices to force them out. After all, the 60 people on the inside could easliy keep those three out.

It's not like that free-state movement where some Libertarians are trying to take over a state by concentrating their members in one area.

Posted by: Ryan on February 13, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The article Kevin linked to actually said that the city council regularly cancelled the election, not just that it was uncontested.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on February 13, 2006 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

And then there's Lake Buena Vista, Florida, an incorporated municipality almost entire co-extensive with Disney World and no residents other than a handful of company employees.

Posted by: Peter on February 13, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

What, were the newcomers black?

A lovely example of the kind of America republican-voters want though...

Posted by: cdj on February 13, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

"What, were the newcomers black? A lovely example of the kind of America republican-voters want though..."

Umm..two out of the four Vernon city councilmen are Hispanic (a third appears to be black) and much of the city's upper admin is staffed by Hispanics. Besides, disenfranchisement by urban political machine is a uniquely Democratic art form.
Kind of sucks when facts get in the way of smug assumptions, but there it is.

Posted by: scouser on February 13, 2006 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK



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