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Uneasy Carson Tries to Edge Away From 'Rougher' Compton

January 17, 1988|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Many in Carson want to have as little to do as possible with Compton, their crime-ridden neighbor to the north.

To help Carson residents avoid paying traffic tickets at the Compton Courthouse, Carson officials are trying to bring a satellite court to their city.

They are also reviving efforts to change the boundary of the Compton Unified School District--which includes a 1 3/4-square-mile section of north Carson--so students living there will not have to go to Compton. Instead, they would join students from the rest of Carson who attend schools run by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Underlying these separate moves is the feeling prevalent among residents of the comparatively well-off black neighborhoods in the north end of Carson--the areas most vocal in anti-Compton sentiment--that Compton is a ghetto that reminds them of what they strived so hard to escape.

"Black middle-class people (living in Carson) worked hard and long to attain and maintain their standard of living and feel it threatened by Compton," said Carson Planning Commissioner Charles Peters, who is black and is active in the campaign to change the school boundaries.

'Rougher Than Dry Corncob'

"Compton is perceived as a run-down black community. Some sections are nice but there are sections . . . that are rougher than a dry corncob," he said.

Carson Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt agreed. "It is a rough area," said DeWitt, who is leading the courthouse move and encouraging the school boundary activists.

Official figures depict a stark contrast between the two cities.

The rate for violent crime in Compton is almost four times the rate in Carson, according to the FBI. The Compton murder rate is six times the Carson murder rate.

Compton has almost three times Carson's percentage of residents on welfare, more than three times its percentage below official poverty levels and almost twice the percentage in rental housing, according to federal census data. Compton has less than half Carson's percentage of residents with a college degree.

Carson students, while below the county average on state standardized test scores, do better than Compton students on average.

For example, in the 12th-grade writing test, the Compton Unified District average score was 51.2, contrasted with 56.5 for Carson and 61.6 for Los Angeles County. The differences in the other 12th-grade tests were similar.

Carson's desire to distance itself from Compton has been shared by other neighbors.

In 1985, the Dominguez Medical Center, a large hospital located partly in Compton and partly in Long Beach, moved its mailbox from the Compton end of the building to the Long Beach end so it could change its mailing address.

"Compton has a negative image as a city," explained the hospital administrator. "Basically, that is what we are trying to get away from."

Change Street Name

In 1986, Paramount, hoping to attract investors to a redevelopment area, changed the name of the 2-mile stretch of Compton Boulevard that runs through the city because, as one put it, "the word Compton does not paint a picture of a first-class community since the area is too well known for the slums and strife that existed there for the last 20 or so years." The new name is Somerset Boulevard.

But in Carson, the anti-Compton sentiment goes way back, according to Compton Councilman Maxcy Filer, who acknowledged that his city has problems but said Carson residents exaggerate them out of snobbishness.

"That is nothing new about them thinking that they are a cut above Compton," Filer said. "That was their theory when they incorporated: 'Let's get away from those poor people in Compton.' "

The Compton Unified School District boundary, which was set before Carson incorporated in 1968, has been a burr under the Carson saddle ever since.

Two earlier attempts to secede from Compton Unified, in 1974-75 and 1980-83, focused on gangs, inadequate equipment, low teacher morale and low test scores.

The first attempt, submitted to a vote in the entire Compton Unified School District, lost by a 2-1 ratio. In the second, only Carson residents in Compton Unified voted and the secession forces won by an 8-1 margin. But the Los Angeles County Board of Education, with an eye on a Fullerton case that suggested the entire Compton district should vote, decided not to act on the results.

The matter came up for a third time before the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization last May. Committee member Henri Pellissier marveled at the intensity of the Carson residents.

"In eight years time, there had never been as many upset and vocal people in attendance (200 to 250) . . . as there were on this particular issue," he said.

"Generally, people want to get out of the Los Angeles Unified, but these people wanted to get into the district."

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