COMPTON — Lois Martin says she has spent many of her 24 years as a resident here pleading with officials to clean up vacant and boarded buildings, abandoned vehicles and litter-strewn streets.
Officials, she said, "always seemed so slow" to react to requests from the neighborhood block clubs and homeowner associations to which she has belonged.
But last week, Martin, 49, was among 200 people at Curry Temple CME Church who watched city officials sign pledges drawn up by the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC) to clean up specific areas of Compton. One by one, the officials penned their names to the documents.
The organizing committee, Martin, 49, said afterward, is showing it has the muscle to capture the attention of city officials.
Indeed, the city attorney, the director of community redevelopment and the building and safety chief were among those signing pledges that several properties will be cleaned up by Jan. 1. Southern California Edison Co. said it would clean up some of its right-of-way property under power lines in the city.
The public signing was the latest maneuver by the South Central Organizing Committee's Tri-Cities chapter of Compton, Carson and Lynwood, which was formed earlier this year. The central committee was organized more than a decade ago and is known for its confrontational techniques to pressure politicians into action on urban problems.
When Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker failed to appear at its initial meeting last June, a group of committee members appeared at his dental office the next day and demanded that he sign an apology and promise to come to the next meeting. The mayor was at the meeting last week.
Members of the committee would not say what they would do if the officials failed to live up to their cleanup commitments.
"We will not reveal our next move, but I must say we are satisfied with the cooperation we are getting from officials," said the Rev. Charles Bebelle, pastor of Temple AME Zion Church.
City Atty. Wesley Fenderson told the group that Compton is already addressing their concerns. He said that the city is hiring two additional code enforcement officers and that 22,000 handbooks will soon be distributed to familiarize residents with the various city ordinances governing code enforcement. Fenderson promised the group that it would "see a significant difference in the next couple of months on how Compton handles these problems."
"We have really been working on this six or seven months. The SCOC is just not aware of what we are doing," Fenderson said in an interview.
Martin was among those voicing skepticism. "I'm suspicious," she said. "The city didn't start work on these properties until they appeared on the SCOC list. I think we have a spy in our group, but I don't care as long as action is being taken. In this case, spying is good."
Among the areas the group targeted is the Edison right of way on the south side of Greenleaf Boulevard between Wilmington and Alameda boulevards and the right of way owned by Southern Pacific Railroad along Willowbrook Avenue.
During the meeting, the group showed pictures of trash and debris in the Edison right of way, but "this was unfortunate because Edison has been making an effort to keep the area clean," said Gregory D. Woodson, Edison area manager. "People do dump tires, sofas, everything there, and we clean it up."
Fenderson said the city contacted Southern Pacific several months ago and told the company that the city would clean up the area along the tracks and send the bill to the railroad.
Community Redevelopment Director Adams promised the group that a 14-acre area in downtown Compton which the agency wants to develop as a shopping center will be maintained during the redevelopment period.
Adams said in an interview that the agency has acquired more than half of the 40 businesses in the redevelopment area and hopes to have all of them purchased and demolished by January. Those that remain will not be allowed to become a public nuisance, Adams said.
In his appearance before the group, Mayor Tucker discussed another organizing committee project: long delays at train crossings, as well as traffic congestion along Rosecrans Avenue. He said it would cost about $400,000 for the city to upgrade the signal system along Rosecrans. The city is conducting a traffic study to determine the best method of upgrading the system and also looking for revenue sources, Tucker said.
Father Francis Seymour, pastor of St. Philip Neri Catholic Church of Lynwood, said the South Central Organizing Committee is satisfied that the city is making a valid attempt to solve the traffic problem. Seymour and Bebelle are co-chairmen of the Tri-Cities chapter.
"It took a little bit of time to get the mayor's attention, but once we got it, he took care of business," Seymour said.