Vernon's Mickey


The Economist has a sweet little story on the unlikely South Los Angeles County city of Vernon, population 90, where 45,000 people work every weekday in various heavy-industry and warehousing jobs. Between reveries, and a declaration that it's a "shame" there aren't more Vernons in or near the world's great cities, the venerable British "newspaper" drops this little to-be-sure:

It does not sound like a recipe for a functioning democracy, because it isn't. The mayor has held power for 34 years. Contested elections are almost unknown. The last was in 2006, when three outsiders moved into a house just before the deadline and petitioned to stand for city offices. Their electricity was abruptly cut off and their home declared unfit for habitation. The outsiders got ten votes out of 68 cast. That was a surprise: they had expected just eight.

Uh, yeah. That sham 2006 election was the first in a quarter century; the interlopers were trailed through Southern California by armed private dicks. The city owns its own electricity plant, and chooses its own residents (who it rewards with extravagantly subsidized housing). The mayor is the grandson of the town founder; the same one family has run the burgh since its inception. For more than a decade, its city administrator was the highest paid municipal employee in the United States, racking up more than $600,000 a year, and taking a city-paid limousine (and/or Escalade) to golf courses on workdays. There are any number of ongoing criminal investigations into the Vernon clan on all levels of law enforcement.

It's a fascinating place, with super-low taxes, a continuous foul stench, and one of the world's best street-level murals … but I'm not sure that that's the industrial model you're looking for.