Perched atop a gentle hill and now overlooking urban sprawl, Rancho Dominguez has always been prized land.
In 1846, it was the scene of a skirmish in the Mexican American War. It later became the site of one of California's first Spanish ranchos.
But today, a different sort of land grab is roiling the large industrial and residential unincorporated community.
For three decades, Rancho Dominguez has been within the governmental sphere of influence of Compton, its neighbor to the north, and has received many city services.
But today, Los Angeles County's Local Agency Formation Commission will consider a proposal to strip the community from Compton and put it within the sphere of influence of Carson, its neighbor to the south.
Compton already had a bad year in 2005, recording a major jump in homicides. And the prospect of losing Rancho Dominguez doesn't please city leaders.
Compton City Manager Barbara Kilroy worries that the city's political turmoil, which sent a former mayor to state prison in 2004, and last year's homicide increase could give pro-Carson forces an advantage this time. She said that LAFCO's taking Rancho Dominguez away would be kicking Compton when it was already down.
She also believes that Carson's wooing of Dominguez is motivated by money.
"Certainly, the ability to acquire an industrial area that produces revenue and demands few services has got to be a motivator," Kilroy said. "Is Compton taking it personally? Yes."
Carson Mayor Jim Deer disagreed, saying that the city only wished to help residents who wanted out of Compton's sphere of influence.
"They are leading the fight for their destiny," he said. "They are looking for allies and they found an ally in the city of Carson."
For their part, Rancho Dominguez residents said they feel more like Carson residents than Compton residents and hope that the change will bring better public services, such as police and public schools.
"It's not anti-Compton; it's pro-Carson," said Joann Fletcher, vice president of the Del Amo Estates Homeowner's Assn.
Backers insist that their campaign is not in response to Compton's recent problems, but a long-term belief that they will be better served by Carson.
"Like my daughter told me," said Fletcher, "If I have two suitors and I only like one, what's the problem?"
Rancho Dominguez lies on the eastern side of the Dominguez Hills and divides Compton from Carson.
Both are working-class suburbs in Los Angeles' industrial belt. But Carson has less crime and a higher median household income than Compton ($52,000 to $32,000, according to the U.S. Census).
The fight over Rancho Dominguez, with its 2,400 residents and nearly 400 acres of prime industrial land, has gone on for more than a generation.
In 1973, the county placed Dominguez Hills under Compton's sphere of influence, which meant that the city provided government services to the unincorporated area with an eye toward possible annexation.
Negotiations to acquire the property, which was owned by the Claretian Fathers, fell through in 1974 when the religious order learned that some of the land would be used for a cemetery.
In 1977, property owners at one of the new Rancho Dominguez mobile home parks petitioned to change their ZIP Code from Compton's post office to Carson's.
The residents argued that the new ZIP Code was necessary in part because of Rancho Dominguez's long-standing ties to the original Dominguez Ranch that had been managed by George Henry Carson in the 19th century. His son, John Manuel Carson, is the city's namesake.
That bid was eventually jettisoned after the U.S. Postal Service refused to get involved in the political controversy.
Within a decade, residents again were trying to align themselves with Carson, this time seeking annexation. That effort failed, as did a bid by Compton to annex the Dominguez Ranch.
The latest chapter in the debate began unfolding last summer when residents at the two Dominguez Hills mobile home parks invited Deer to address a joint homeowners meeting.
Deer said he told residents about the pros and cons of becoming part of Carson's sphere of influence.
Jack Ball, president of the Del Amo Estates Homeowner's Assn., said the presentation made a big impression.
"I have never seen such enthusiasm from our homeowners," said Ball, who has lived in the area since 1978.
He said Compton had never approached residents to ask what services they needed, creating among them a sense of disenfranchisement.
Becoming part of Carson's sphere could be the first step in Rancho Dominguez being annexed by the city. Annexation would make Carson more responsible for serving residents but would give the city a share of the taxes from the sprawling industrial plants and warehouses.
Kilroy said she had no objection to residents choosing their city government, but was troubled by the process.
She criticized a draft report prepared for the Local Agency Formation Commission, which recommended that Compton be stripped not only of its sphere of influence over Rancho Dominguez but of most of the land in areas including West Compton and Willowbrook.
It's a lot of debate for a piece of land that was once the heart of the sprawling Rancho San Pedro, which covered much of the South Bay. The land was granted to Spanish soldier Juan Jose Dominguez in 1784.
Jean Walker, a member and spokeswoman for the Dominguez clan, said the family's position was to let the voters sort things out.
"This is an issue for the residents of the area," she said.
For their part, residents say they hope that politics won't get in the way of annexation.
"If this doesn't happen, we'll have to wait another five years," Ball said. "And I can't wait."