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Tucker Office Rental Dispute Prompts Legislation : Politics: Compton snubbed the congressman’s efforts to set up shop in the city transit center. State Sen. Diane Watson seeks to prohibit similar situations.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker III was elected to Congress last year, his colleagues on the City Council declined to put out the welcome mat for him, literally.

Tucker sought to rent space for his congressional office in the city of Compton’s new Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Transit Center, but the council majority slammed the door in his face and hung up a “No Vacancy” sign.

The newly minted congressman did not press the point and is poised to set up shop to serve his constituents, who stretch from Lynwood to Wilmington, out of a private Compton office building.

But state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) is not letting the office dispute die. Assailing the council’s rejection of Tucker’s tenancy as “patently unfair and unjust,” as well as “strictly political,” Watson is pushing a bill aimed at prohibiting Compton and other California cities from getting involved in similar disputes.

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Her bill, under which local governments in the future would be barred from discriminating against elected officials who seek to rent vacant publicly owned office space, was unanimously approved last week by the Senate Local Government Committee. The next stop for the legislation will be a hearing before the Senate Governmental Organization Committee.

Watson said that if her measure--dubbed by legislative aides “the mandatory landlord bill"--makes its way through the Legislature and becomes law, Tucker might take another stab at leasing Compton city offices.

As for the congressman back in Washington, he is staying silent on Watson’s bill. “He wanted to keep out of it as much as possible,” said Kim Shearin, Tucker’s press deputy.

To some, the flap over the office was just an extension of the bickering that frequently erupted at Compton council meetings between Tucker and a majority of his colleagues on the board. That tension was exacerbated when the council majority supported Lynn Dymally, Tucker’s chief Democratic rival, in last year’s congressional race.

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Councilwoman Jane D. Robbins, one of the three members of that majority, last week denied that politics entered into her opposition when Tucker sought a lease at the city’s transit center.

The events that prompted the legislation began to unfold last spring after Tucker defeated Dymally, the daughter of the area’s outgoing congressman, Mervyn M. Dymally, in June’s primary. In the heavily Democratic district, which includes Carson, Compton, Willowbrook, Lynwood and parts of South-Central Los Angeles and Long Beach, the primary victory was viewed as tantamount to election.

Councilwoman Patricia A. Moore, a Tucker ally, recalled that the former mayor sought approval of the city’s Redevelopment Agency staff to negotiate a lease with the U.S. General Services Administration, which handles congressional leases. Her council colleagues, Moore said, saw the overture as premature because Tucker had not won the November general election.

Once Tucker captured the seat outright, Moore said, she revived the issue, thinking that the Redevelopment Agency could benefit from the rent payments Tucker’s office would generate. But Moore failed to attract support for her motion to enter into negotiations with federal authorities to rent space to Tucker.

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Tucker supporters touted the transit center as centrally located and accessible by public transit. Built with voter-approved county taxes earmarked for transit purposes, the center on Willowbrook Avenue is a hub for bus lines and the Metro Blue Line.

Compton City Atty. Wesley Fenderson Jr. said that at first, the staff of the Redevelopment Agency--which oversees the transit center--urged the council to rent the space to Tucker.

Upon further review, Fenderson said, city officials determined that the county placed restrictions on the kind of businesses that could be located in facilities built with the transit funds. Fenderson said a congressional office “probably didn’t fit into the definition” of what would be suitable because it is not directly related to the needs of transit passengers.

Fenderson acknowledged that before the center was completed, it was rented on a temporary basis by the U.S. Census Bureau and that a beauty shop is among the businesses open in the center.

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Watson argues that the rejection of Tucker was motivated by politics.

During a brief discussion of the measure during last week’s hearing before the Local Government Committee, Sen. William A. Craven (R-Oceanside) voiced reservations that the legislation “may be going beyond the purview of the state” in setting guidelines for the operation of municipal buildings.

But he later joined Sen. Teresa Hughes (D-Los Angeles), who represents parts of Compton, and four others in unanimously approving the bill.


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