Most would-be California members of Congress are waiting until reapportionment creates a bumper crop of new House districts in 1992, but in San Diego four-term Rep. Jim Bates (D) has proved too tempting a target for one ambitious Democrat, producing a rare contested primary June 5.

Bates's troubles began in 1988 when he was accused of sexual harassment by female staff members in his congressional office. He was reelected easily, but the House ethics committee last year formally reproved him.

Bates's primary opponent, Byron Georgiou, has run three television commercials -- rare in a House primary -- detailing Bates's alleged sins and offering himself as "A Democrat We Can Respect."

Bates's campaign manager, Dena Holman, noted that Bates had apologized for his behavior and remained popular. Georgiou, she said, moved into the district eight days before the filing deadline and "is just shopping for a House seat." Georgiou also charges that Bates compounded his original offense by using his free mailing privilege to send a letter of apology to several hundred female activists.

In the GOP primary, five Republicans are competing for the nomination, despite a 54 to 34 percent Democratic registration advantage in the district.