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.