Wednesday, October 3, 2018

By Jim Forbes, Special to The Bulletin

 

In a move initiated and supported by local legislators responding to customer complaints, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Friday, authorization for an outside administrator to take over control of the embattled Sativa—Los Angeles County Water District.

This includes dissolving the Board of Directors and wresting all control of the water district from the current operators.

Sativa has been plagued for decades by accusations of mismanagement and a crumbling infrastructure with insufficient resources to maintain a quality water supply.

That came to a head this spring when customers began posting videos of visually brown and brackish water, along with testimony of its offensive odor and taste.  While the district attempted to appease customer’s that these issues were being addressed and the water tested safe, the years of neglect was coming to a head, and realities and perceptions outweighed pleas for patience.

In boisterous Town Hall meetings hosted by Congresswoman Nanette Barragán this past May and June, promises were made for swift action to help the districts 1,600 customers, primarily in unincorporated Willowbrook, and others in the City of Compton.

In July, at the urging of Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn, L.A. County’s Local Agency Formation Commission, LAFCO, which has oversight authority over County water agencies, voted to dissolve Sativa. But two previous efforts by LAFCO to do the same since 2005, fell flat, and with relatively little community support.

But the times are changing. Reluctant to endure another drawn-out attempt and the likelihood of legal battles, State Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson) introduced Assembly Bill 1577. If signed into law it would enable the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to immediately appoint an outside administrator to take full control of the district, while completely eliminating the current Board of Directors.

As an urgency law, which prevents any legal action against it, some expressed concern that this is a power play that endangers many of the thousands of small water systems in California.

That was countered by others arguing Sativa is a unique example and its customers are in dire need of intervention, and safe drinking water.

After sailing through both houses of the legislature, Governor Brown has now signed it into law.

“This legislation is a step in the right direction for the customers of Sativa,” Rep Barragán responded to the signing. “I am committed to continuing to work with state and Los Angeles County officials until a long-term water service provider is identified and all households have clean and safe drinking water.”

AB 1577, would require the SWRCB to order Sativa to accept administrative and managerial services, including full management and control, from an administrator selected by the SWRCB. The LA County Department of Public Works (DPW) is expected to be appointed until a long-term water service provider can be identified.

Sativa’s acting General Manager, Thomas Martin has not responded to requests for comment, as to what if any actions the district intends to take in the face of the new law.