In most cities, elections happen at least every four years. In Vernon, officeholders haven't faced opposition in a generation.
Twenty-five years after its elected officials last had a contested ballot, eight strangers took up residence in the tiny city four miles south of downtown Los Angeles. Last month, after just a few days in town, three of the newcomers filed petitions to run for City Council in the April 11 election.
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.
... Then the city fathers did the one thing that they almost always do every four years: They voted to cancel the election.
..."It's kind of a fiefdom," said Philip Reavis, 65, a former Vernon Chamber of Commerce president who ran for office in the city's last contested election — in 1980. "This place is a little anomaly that exists, kind of by accident. In the whole state of California, there's nothing like it."
In the 1980 election, as in this year's, Vernon officials sought to disqualify a candidate by evicting him.
By strictly limiting who can live in the city, Vernon officials handpick their constituents, said Roy Ulrich, a lawyer and former Vernon property owner who has clashed with city officials. "They only allow people who are city employees. Anything that smells like residential property, they disallow.