LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A California agency voted to move forward Wednesday with the process of dissolving the troubled Sativa Water District in Compton.
Following a public hearing Wednesday at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted unanimously to begin dissolution proceedings for the Sativa Water District, which serves about 1,600 customers in Compton and Willowbrook.
LAFCO, which reviews and sets boundaries for special districts and municipal service providers like water agencies, has been aiming to disband Sativa for years, based on its lack of financial wherewithal and other problems.
In April, Sativa customers began complaining that brown water was running through their taps.
Water district officials alleged that the discolored water was safe to drink, stating that it 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.
“Sativa Board members have ignored their responsibilities, abused their positions and even had the nerve to give themselves bonuses, all while their customers dealt with brown, dirty tap water,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who sits on the LAFCO, said in a statement following Wednesday’s vote. “We are dissolving this district and focusing our energy on finding a capable, trustworthy agency to take it over.”
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. However, LACDPH reiterated Sativa’s claim that there was no health or safety threat.
In June, the Sativa Water District board of directors suspended general manager Maria Rachelle Garza over allegations that she had hired fake supporters for that town hall meeting.
Sativa officials have argued that they have an aging infrastructure which requires an upgrade. LAFCO Executive Officer Paul Novak estimates that it needs $10 to $15 million in repairs “right away.”
If LAFCO is successful in dissolving Sativa, the problem remains as to what agency will serve customers who pay rates that are “the lowest of any water retailer in the area,” according to Novak.
Sativa customers pay a flat $65 per month fee for unmetered service.
Compton has indicated a willingness to pick up the 30-to-50 homes in that city that are served by Sativa, but has not been willing to take on customers in Willowbrook who make up roughly 95 percent of the customer base.
In a news release Tuesday, Hahn and fellow Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed that Los Angeles County be appointed to take over managing Sativa and transitioning its customers over to a high-quality water service provider.
“The county is prepared to step in to take control of this long-mismanaged water district,” Hahn said in a statement. “The leadership of Sativa has proven itself to be incapable and untrustworthy and as LAFCO moves forward to dissolve this district, I am hopeful that the county can provide some needed supervision and stability.”
Meanwhile, four Compton residents filed a lawsuit against Sativa and its five board members on Monday, accusing them of failing to provide quality drinking water, misappropriating tax dollars and placing a financial burden on its low- income customers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
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