It started about 10 days ago. Green and white signs began popping up in the two unincorporated areas that are home to some 15,000 people on the east side of this city.
The area known as East Compton, it seemed, had suddenly become East Rancho Dominguez. And once again, Compton officials saw the move as another attack on the city’s beleaguered reputation.
In recent years, Compton’s neighbors have been scrambling to change street names and postal addresses to distance themselves from the city’s reputation for violent crime, gangs and drug trafficking.
“It duplicates what the other cities have done in terms of disassociating themselves from Compton,” said Councilwoman Patricia A. Moore.
Backers of the move to adopt the name East Rancho Dominguez say it was a simple matter of giving the area its own identity.
“Hollywood, Westchester, Westwood all have their own identity,” said Mary Lee Baker, who worked on the name change for her boss, Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, who represents Compton. She said residents and business owners in the area had been talking about the idea for the past five years.
But city officials were stunned by the change and saw it as just another in a series of insults hurled at Compton.
Four years ago, Paramount became the first city to erase the name Compton Boulevard from its municipal map. The east-west traffic artery became Somerset Boulevard.
Then cities to the west and south, Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale and Redondo Beach, did the same. One by one, they renamed the portion of Compton Boulevard that ran through their communities to Marine Avenue.
Dominguez Medical Center moved its mailbox from one side of the hospital to the other so it would have a Long Beach, instead of a Compton, address.
Now, faced with what it perceives as the latest affront, the Compton City Council this week mailed a letter to Dana, demanding to know why Compton was not told about East Rancho Dominguez. Councilman Maxcy D. Filer said the area is within what is traditionally known as the city’s sphere of influence and Compton should have been consulted.
“You don’t change attitudes by changing names,” Filer said. “Problems of criminality, problems of gangs, there’s nowhere to run. They don’t stop at city borders. (Criminals) don’t stop and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. We’re in East Rancho Dominguez. We can’t do this anymore.’ ”
Council members also note that Rancho Dominguez, an unincorporated, largely industrial area that lies south of Compton, is not contiguous to the new East Rancho Dominguez.
“It’s nowhere near there,” Moore said. “It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no continuity.”
Councilwoman Jane Robbins said Compton will fight to have the name change reversed, even though the county has already put up the signs.
“Well, they can pull them down, too,” Robbins said.
Baker said the change is final and did not require the approval of the Board of Supervisors, the Local Agency Formation Commission or the city of Compton. The city, Baker added, has no jurisdiction in county areas.
The name change only required the cooperation of area postal officials, Baker said, adding that mail is already being delivered with the new name on it, although the ZIP code, 90221, will stay the same. That ZIP code also covers much of Compton.
The next step, said Gray, will be to drop the moniker East Compton from in front of the county library, social service center and park located in the area and replace it with East Rancho Dominguez.
Margaret Comer, a resident of the area who sat on the county redevelopment advisory committee that came up with the name East Rancho Dominguez, said: “I think we deserve it. Compton does not service this area in any way but the schools. Willowbook (a county area on Compton’s northern municipal border) has its own identity. We aren’t part of Compton.”
The two county pockets in question are both designated redevelopment areas and Gray said the county spends about $1 million a year in redevelopment funds there.
Publicly, backers of the change deny they are trying to disassociate themselves from Compton, but privately, the story is a little different.
“Personally, myself, we’re trying to attract business in here,” said one resident of the area, who asked not to be identified. He said developers often will not come to an area if it bears the name Compton. It can even be difficult, he said, to get service people such as plumbers and electricians to come to the area.
Gray said the change will “stabilize” the area. A motel development is being planned and local business people are planning renovations.
Gwen Robinson, a Compton resident who used to live in the area but now rents her property there, said she believes the move was led by development interests lured by the freeway off-ramps at Rosecrans Avenue and Alondra Boulevard.
Robinson said she gets 10 or 12 letters a week from real estate speculators asking her to sell her property.
The change, she said, is part of a thrust by small business owners and developers trying to make big money in the real estate business. She says those interests will try to move the largely low-income people in the area out.
Ironically, the area is one of the poorest and most dangerous in terms of drug trafficking and crime, according to council members and police sources.
Its proximity to the Long Beach (710) Freeway makes it an ideal entrance area for outsiders to get off the freeway, buy drugs, and then depart quickly, police say. Gangs, police sources have said, have carried out violent turf wars over drug sales there.
On the one hand, Filer said, maybe the change will be a “blessing in disguise.” In the past when violent crimes occurred in the area, Filer said, Compton always had to take the blame when in fact the area belonged to the county.
BACKGROUND Compton endured its first public snub in 1985, when Dominguez Medical Center changed its mailing address from one side of the hospital to the other, making it Long Beach instead of Compton. The following year, Paramount became the first neighboring city to change the name of that portion of Compton Boulevard that ran through the city. In 1988, Gardena, Hawthorne and Lawndale followed suit. Early this year, Redondo Beach joined them. Now, two unincorporated areas on the east side of Compton have decided to call themselves East Rancho Dominguez.