Season two of True Detective is, much like the first season, all about damaged cops and corrupt city officials. Rather than stay in Louisiana, though, this season has moved to the fictional town of Vinci, California: a town where city managers get their eyes pecked out and a high-speed rail line development is a high-stakes central plot point. The town has some weirdness to it: its government is large and active, corruption in its businesses is widespread, but it hardly has any residents. Well, it turns out that that description is pretty similar to the actual city of Vernon, California, which Pizalatto has named as the inspiration for Vinci.
Just a five miles south of Downtown Los Angeles, Vernon has a population (as of the 2010 census) of just 112. Yet it has an annual budget of $300,000,000— more than Beverly Hills. The city is “exclusively industrial, and according to its Wikipedia page, “meatpacking plants and warehouses are common. As of 2006, there were no parks.”
And while city officials may not go losing their lives and eyeball all the time like on True Detective, corruption is at the heart of the city. In 2010 the L.A. Times did a fascinating investigation into the city which you can read in full here. Most of the 112 residents of Vernon live in below-market-value government housing, but that housing comes with an expectation (that’s really more of a requirement) to be “pliant, undemanding and loyal.” According to that investigation, “the largely industrial city selects its own residents, who have rewarded council members by keeping them in office for decades.” As one state Assemblyman put it,
They’re all beholden to the machine. It’s like they said of Mexico — it’s the perfect dictatorship because they have elections. Vernon is the perfect corporation because it pretends to be a city.After that investigation, the state tried to pass a bill disincorporating all towns with populations under 150. (Not coincidentally, there was only one town this bill would have affected.) A team of lobbyists and lawyers put an end to that bill’s chances, though.
And this corruption is nothing new. Vernon’s founder was a Basque immigrant named John Baptiste Leonis. In 1905, he incorporated the city with plans to turn the farmland into what would soon be the only town west of the Mississippi dedicated entirely to manufacturing. Vernon placed himself at the center of the business community as well as its governance. According to one opponent at the time,
In that town, you do not file papers at the City Hall. You simply hand them to John and he puts them in his pocket. If he is in favor of the proposition, it goes through; if he is opposed, that’s the last you hear of it.
Based on True Detective’s wholly unimpressive season premiere, I can’t be alone in thinking… can’t we just have a TV show about Vernon, instead?