Known for nearly a decade for its confrontational techniques of pressuring politicians into taking action on urban problems, the South-Central Organizing Committee has moved into three cities in Southeast Los Angeles County.
And true to its image, the grass-roots group has immediately gotten into a confrontation with a politician.
More than 200 members attended its first organizational meeting Wednesday night at Martin Temple AME Zion Church in Compton. But the main invited guest, Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker, failed to appear.
"Mayor Tucker had promised to be at our first public meeting. We have it in writing," said the Rev. Charles Bebelle, pastor of Temple AME Zion.
"We are just looking for some respect," said Bebelle.
And so about 20 angry representatives of the group marched into Tucker's dental office Thursday morning and demanded an apology. After a few minutes of sometimes heated conversation, Tucker signed a written apology that he had his secretary type. The group was led by Bebelle and Father Francis Seymour of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church of Lynwood. Bebelle and Seymour are co-chairmen of the newly formed group.
Tucker said in an interview that he had promised to be at the meeting, but forgot when his secretary inadvertently failed to write it on his schedule.
'I Forgot. I Apologized.'
"It (the meeting) wasn't on my schedule. I went to a chamber (of Commerce) mixer . . . then I went to a contract cities meeting in Carson. I forgot. I apologized," Tucker said.
"I tried to get them to see that I'm just a ceremonial-type mayor. If they want problems solved, they must come to the full council.
"What they are talking about--high insurance cost, rapid transit problems, voter apathy--is very important. I'm interested in these problems, also. But it must be attacked by the full council," Tucker said.
The group "isn't buying the idea that Mayor Tucker is powerless. He has council members voting with him all the time. They form a majority," Bebelle said.
Bebelle said Tucker's written apology will be distributed to the South-Central Organizing Committee Tri-Cities of Compton, Lynwood and Carson.
The Tri-Cities membership consists of nine churches in the Compton-Lynwood area and individual members from Carson and the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union from Compton, Bebelle said. He estimated that the combined Tri-Cities' church membership is more than 5,000. The South-Central Organizing Committee is attempting to involve the membership of the churches in solving problems that plague the cities, Bebelle said.
The Organizing Committee has been meeting privately for months to expand into the Compton, Lynwood and Carson areas.
The parent South-Central Organizing Committee was started in 1979 by Catholic priests, nuns and lay people in South-Central Los Angeles. Today, the group consists of Catholic and Protestant churches with primarily black and Latino congregants. The group's goal was to address such urban problems as drugs, gang activities, unemployment and underemployment.
Fought for Better Produce
One of its first efforts was to get inner-city supermarkets to improve the quality of their produce and clean up their stores. In 1983, the group started a drive to limit the number of liquor stores in the South-Central area and to crack down on crime near them. The groups tactics included confronting business owners as well as politicians representing the area, and it has had some successes.
For instance, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance subjecting South-Central liquor stores to stricter land-use controls by the Planning Commission. In addition, the state Legislature passed a law authorizing county and state agencies to regulate stores for nuisance violations more closely. Another law ordered the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to give more extensive notice of hearings on licenses so that people living near a proposed new store could attend.
The expansion into Carson, Compton and Lynwood coincides with an expansion of an affiliated group--the Unitied Neighborhoods Organization, or UNO, which started in East Los Angeles nearly a decade ago--into several other cities in Southeast Los Angeles County.
The new UNO chapter, consisting of 11 church and community groups, was christened last week at St. Matthias Catholic Church in Huntington Park. It has singled out for attention the safety hazard from trains that block streets and sidewalks during long stoppages outside of local railyards.
The newly form Carson-Compton-Lynwood group has also targeted long waits at train crossings, as well as traffic congestion along Rosecrans Avenue, said Bebelle.
Tucker met with the South-Central Organizing Committee at the Los Angeles Convention Center on May 28 and signed an agreement to come to last week's meeting as well as tackle the traffic problem, Bebelle said. Tucker also agreed to have the Compton city staff do a report on the problems and come to last week's meeting to discuss possible solutions, Bebelle said.
"We realize the problem is not a easy one to solve but we had hoped that the mayor would have come to the meeting, discussed the problem and then set up a meeting between Southern Pacific Railroad officials, our leaders and himself to talk about traffic being clogged by stopped trains," Bebelle said.
Complaints of Inaction
Tucker said he did ask the city staff to do the report and that it was done. But Bebelle said the report was only completed after Father Seymour of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church complained as late as Tuesday that nothing had been done. On Wednesday, before the meeting, a report on traffic conditions was delivered to South-Central Organizing Committee and copies made for the membership, Bebelle said, but the report was not discussed because of Tucker's absence.
The group is deciding what other problems it will target, but Bebelle said that it will definitely look at voter apathy in Compton, where only 9.7% of the registered voters turned out for a municipal election June 3.
To that end, Compton City Clerk Charles Davis has agreed to meet in City Hall with the group June 25 to discuss the issue, Bebelle said.
"We will just try and get a feel for what is going on in the elections, why there is so much voter apathy," Bebelle said. "Then we will look for a solution."
And if the solution involves confronting the entire council, Bebelle said, the group will not hesitate filling Compton's council chambers with several hundred people.