日期:2011-05-15 14:32


Small-town corruption

Business paradise or den of thieves?

An effort to abolish a highly unusual Californian city

May 5th 2011 | VERNON | from the print edition

EVEN Vernon’s logo proclaims that the city is “exclusively industrial”, and that is no exaggeration. It was founded in 1905 at a railway crossing along the Los Angeles River as a sort of Eden for business, especially the smelly, dirty and blue-collar manufacturing sort. An aerial view shows neat boundaries around its 5.2 square miles (13.5 square kilometres), as the residential neighbourhoods of Los Angeles County suddenly give way to huge blocks of warehouses and factories. Lorries seem to outnumber cars on Vernon’s streets. The whiff of pigs being slaughtered hangs over those parts not covered by the aroma of coffee being processed.


In most of the world, it is inconceivable that Vernon could even be considered a “city”. It has about 1,800 businesses that employ more than 50,000 workers who live elsewhere in Los Angeles County. But it has only 96 actual residents, and those live in housing tucked improbably between power stations and warehouses and mostly owned by the city.


But in southern California tiny municipalities are not unusual. A clutch of five counties there—Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino—have, between them, no fewer than 183 independent cities. That is because, for much of the past century, California incorporated cities rather as Silicon Valley today launches start-ups. In a 1967 book title, Los Angeles was “The Fragmented Metropolis”.

不过在加州南部,微型城市并非特别现象。此地群集的洛杉矶县、橘县(Orange)、凡图拉县(Ventura)、里弗赛德县(Riverside)以及圣伯纳迪诺县(San Bernardino)五县之间,存在着不少于183座独立市。这是因为在上世纪大多数时间内,加州就像硅谷如今创办新兴企业一样组建着城市。在1967年一本书的书名中,洛杉矶被称为“碎片化的大都会”。

But city-founding has now abruptly gone out of fashion and into reverse. First, several Californian cities—such as Vernon’s neighbour, Maywood—ran into financial trouble largely caused by the recession. They decided they could no longer afford to duplicate all the intricate layers of local democracy and administration, and have tried to consolidate either with other cities or with the county itself.


Then, last year, came discoveries of corruption. Most notorious was Bell, another of Vernon’s neighbours, where eight officials lived in remarkable style, levied illegally high taxes and are now on trial. Another city nearby, Montebello, is also being investigated on suspicions that it cooked its books.


So it was perhaps only a matter of time before lawmakers took an interest in the bizarre case of Vernon. The city happens to be in the district of assemblyman John Pérez, a Democrat who is also the assembly’s speaker and an up-and-coming sort. Mr Pérez, citing an “unprecedented pattern of corruption”, has now shepherded a bill through his lower house that would disincorporate any city with fewer than 150 residents and have it be absorbed by its county. That happens to affect only one Californian city, Vernon.

因此,议员对弗农市的古怪案例产生兴趣也许只是迟早的事。该市恰好位于州议会议员约翰•佩雷斯(John Pérez)的选区内,这位积极进取的民主党人也担任该州议会议长。引用“空前的腐败格局”为例的佩雷斯,如今已在其众议院中护送通过了一份法案,该法案将撤销任何居民数量不足150人的城市,使其被所在县合并。这一法案恰好只影响到一座加州城市——弗农市。

Mr Pérez has some good reasons. Two of Vernon’s former city officials are facing criminal corruption charges and a former mayor has already been convicted. Their alleged shenanigans included rigged salaries, outlandish expenses and perks. Vernon has usually appointed its officials, rather than electing them, since positions were not even contested. The few residents, since they live in city housing, have been politically tractable.


But for Vernon’s businesses disincorporation is a step too far. After all, Vernon is really meant to be run for their benefit, not for that of the 96 residents. To a large extent, Vernon represents all that is left of manufacturing industry in Los Angeles County. Who else in Los Angeles these days would welcome belching trucks and slaughterhouses? If Vernon loses its independence, its businessmen say, its electricity company (now city-owned) will have to increase its rates, thus erasing a crucial competitive advantage. Eric Gustafson, the third-generation manager of a family-run maker of lards and shortenings, says that “if Vernon were not a city we wouldn’t be here,” and “if we’re forced to move, we’re not staying in this state.” He’d move his firm to the Midwest, he reckons.

不过对弗农市商界来说,撤市之举走得太远。毕竟,弗农市的运作实际上是旨在服务于商界的利益,而非96名居民的利益。在很大程度上,弗农市代表着洛杉矶县仅存的全部制造业。如今,该县还有谁会欢迎排着浓烟的卡车与屠宰场呢?该市商人指出,如果弗农市失去了独立地位,那么如今由城市所拥有的电力公司将不得不提高电价,而这会令弗农市失去一个关键的竞争优势。一个生产猪油和酥油的家族企业的第三代经理埃里克•古丝塔森(Eric Gustafson)表示:“如果弗农不是一座城市,那我们就不会在这里”,而“如果我们被迫搬走,我们将不会待在加州”。他觉得自己的公司会搬到中西部地区。

The threat of job losses and a new manufacturing exodus naturally gets legislators’ attention at a time when California has barely begun recovering from recession. Mr Pérez thinks the threats are overblown. But Vernon, and most of its business customers, plan to fight his bill in the state senate, then on the governor’s desk and in the courts.


Even if they prevail, however, Mr Pérez’s bill will have done some good. Vernon’s defence strategy is to reform itself voluntarily and aggressively so that corruption will cease even without disincorporation, says Mark Whitworth, the current city administrator and fire chief. There will be term limits for officials, caps on salaries, transparency in housing and so forth. After all, why get rid of an honest city? This bit of the peculiar municipal quilt that is Los Angeles may just persist.


  • crucialadj. 关键的,决定性的
  • administrationn. 行政,管理,行政部门
  • independentadj. 独立的,自主的,有主见的 n. 独立派人士,无
  • corruptionn. 腐败,堕落,贪污
  • abruptlyadv. 突然地,莽撞地,陡峭地,不连贯地
  • districtn. 区,地区,行政区 vt. 把 ... 划分成区
  • exodusn. 大批的离去 Exodus:(《圣经·旧约》中的)出
  • exaggerationn. 夸张,夸大
  • benefitn. 利益,津贴,保险金,义卖,义演 vt. 有益于,得
  • affectvt. 影响,作用,感动