By Dennis J. Freeman
COMPTON — Martha Barajas, a longtime Compton resident, has been leading the charge for Sativa Water District to be disbanded altogether for the district’s practice of delivering unsafe water to its customers.
On Nov. 1 she got her wish when County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, state Sen. Steve Bradford and Assemblyman Mike Gipson attended a press conference in front of the Sativa Water District headquarters to announce that the troubled water district, which serves about 1,600 homes in Compton and Willowbrook, is now under the management of the county Department of Pubic Works.
“It’s a great day because the hard work paid off,” Barajas said. “The struggles we went through and the obstacles down the line … paid off.”
That struggle included a heavy price for residents, Barajas said. That included public humiliation and name shaming by district officials. Barajas is one of four Compton residents who filed a class-action lawsuit against the water district.
“The name calling, the putting us in jail, the restraining orders … all these obstacles Sativa used to distract to stop the movement didn’t stop,” Barajas said. “The issue has been here for years, but we took charge this year. We united people, had community meetings in people’s backyards, and became united as one. We need transparency. The corruption here in this Sativa place is unbelievable.”
Gipson got the ball rolling from a legislation point when he introduced Assembly Bill 1577, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September. The bill — now law — required the State Water Resources Control Board to appoint an administrator over the Sativa Water District.
“Clean water is a basic necessity, and the people of California are entitled to clean, safe drinking water,” Gipson said. “So, Assembly Bill 1577 was delivered as promised to replace the board of directors of Sativa and put a new leader in charge. … We want to make sure that the same water that is being produced in affluent communities is being produced right here.”
Los Angeles County now has jurisdiction over the long-troubled water district besieged with complaints of brown and unsanitary water deemed to be unsafe to drink. The Department of Public Works will assume immediate takeover duties and will begin to evaluate pipes and other infrastructure that needs upgrading.
“We’re here because Sativa customers are residents,” Ridley-Thomas said. “They stepped up. They said that this is a matter of environmental justice … and we’re just not going to have it. [This] threat to environmental justice across this county has to be addressed, and so they demanded clean water. They courageously made their business known and demanded change for their community. So we acknowledge and thank Sativa customers for their leadership.
“I want to say that nothing is a replacement for leadership and so if no one else gives you a pat on the back, pat yourself on the back.”