COMPTON (CBSLA) – The general manager for a troubled water district in Compton has been put on administrative leave over allegations that she hired fake supporters for a town hall meeting last month in which residents complained about dirty water coming out of their taps.
The Sativa Water District suspended Maria Rachelle Garza Thursday following a closed door meeting with its board of directors, the Los Angeles Times reports. An investigation is underway into whether the claims are true.
A man named Cole Edwards told the Times that Garza had hired him to place a Craigslist ad looking for fake supporters. He showed the Times a series of texts and emails that he allegedly exchanged with Garza.
Garza has in the past denied the allegations.
Last week, L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn voted to begin proceedings to dissolve Sativa, which serves about 1,600 customers in Compton and Willowbrook.
In April, Sativa customers began complaining about discolored water.
“This looks like urine, and it’s coming out of all the sinks,” Compton resident Ricardo Calderon told CBS2 as he held a large container of murky-looking water.
Sativa officials have repeatedly stated that the water is safe to drink, stating that the brown color was simply the result of a process of flushing the district’s 80-year-old pipes as part of a new program to remove mineral and sediment buildup. The flushing process is done four times a year.
At a town hall meeting in May, L.A. County Department of Public Health officials said the water had been tested and no bacteria was found in the samples, but did contain high levels of manganese. LACDPH reiterated Sativa’s claim that there was no health or safety threat.
“This problem can only be solved through an infrastructure upgrade,” Garza said at that meeting. “Our pipes are 70 and 80 years old. We’re doing the best we can.”
A Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) report reiterated Garza’s concerns, determining that Sativa “suffers from ongoing operational issues, including a lack of adequate water sources and storage capacity, an absence of water meters, aging water mains, inadequate operational and management resources, and an inactive contaminated well that needs to be properly destroyed,” Hahn said in a news release last week.
Hahn is also asking the county to explore a ratepayer subsidy to help pay for the repairs and upgrades to Sativa’s water supply system.
“People have a right to clean, safe water,” Hahn said. “Dissolving the Sativa Water District is the first step to ensuring these residents get the clean, drinkable water that they deserve.”