Stricter Oversight Sought
for Sativa Water

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called on the California State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento to appoint a representative to exercise “vigorous oversight” of Sativa Water District, after many of its 1,600 customers in Willowbrook and Compton reported brown water running through their taps in April.

In a letter to the Water Board’s executive director, Eileen Sobeck, the Supervisor credited both state regulators and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health with confirming there are currently no violations of “primary” water standards within Sativa’s jurisdiction. The Supervisor noted, however, that there have been “secondary” water quality violations related to increased levels of manganese and for turbidity.

“These troublesome incidents underscore the longstanding deficiencies associated with Sativa’s lack of proper fiscal management and operational capacity,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Simply put, Sativa has not demonstrated an adequate ability to address its deferred maintenance challenges or to provide high quality water to its customers in a sustainable manner going forward.”

He added that while the County is assessing potential alternative water providers, the Water Board should monitor Sativa closely. “I write to respectfully request that the State Board immediately take all appropriate steps to exercise vigorous oversight of Sativa, including selecting a representative for that purpose, to ensure proper fiscal and operational activities are occurring during the period in which Sativa is till responsible for providing water to its customers,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “A competent representative selected by the Water Board for this purpose could help regain the public’s trust and facilitate stability and oversight during this tumultuous period.”

When Sativa customers first expressed alarm about the brown water running through their taps, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed an urgency motion to conduct an investigation, take immediate steps to prevent any serious risks to public health, and determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s infrastructure issues. At his direction, the County also distributed approximately 20,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of Willowbrook and Compton.

When Sativa flushed its pipes after an extended period without proper maintenance, the lingering sediment caused intermittent discoloration and cloudiness in the water supply.

Supervisor Receives Honorary Degree from CDU

Charles R. Drew University President/CEO Dr. David Carlisle confers honorary degree on Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. All photos by Dave Franco/Board of Supervisors.

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science conferred an honorary degree on Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas during its 34th Annual Commencement Ceremony at the StubHub Center in Carson.

“It is an honor to be recognized by an institution founded on the principles of equity and social justice to provide high quality instruction for aspiring healthcare professionals who will serve our most vulnerable communities,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, a longtime supporter of CDU and a member of its Board of Directors from 1986-1991.

CDU confers honorary degrees on distinguished individuals who have demonstrated intellectual and humane values consistent with its mission. Dr. Loretta Jones, founder and CEO of Healthy African American Families, Phase II (HAAF-II), also received an honorary degree during the ceremony.

With US Rep. Nanette Barragán delivering the commencement address, CDU awarded 365 graduates with certificates, diplomas, associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the College of Science and Health, College of Medicine, and the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing.

“This year’s group of honorary degree recipients, as well as our commencement speaker, offers our graduates yet another example of the tremendous impact that dedicated service and activism have on the communities in which we live and work,” said CDU President/CEO Dr. David Carlisle. “We look forward to welcoming and honoring these individuals, as well as the accomplishments of the Class of 2018.”

Avis Ridley-Thomas with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors since 2008, championing efforts to address the crisis of homelessness, criminal justice reform, healthcare for all, living wage, economic and workforce development, transit improvements, affordable quality education, voting rights, and a host of other critical issues. He is widely regarded as the foremost advocate of neighborhood participation in government decision-making by virtue of his founding the Empowerment Congress.

First elected to public office in 1991, he previously served on the Los Angeles City Council, California State Assembly, and California State Senate. His political career was preceded by a decade as the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.

Supervisor Ridley-Thoms earned BA and MA degrees, along with secondary and adult education credentials, from Immaculate Heart College. He holds a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California, with a focus on Social Criticism and Social Change.

CDU also conferred an honorary degree on Dr. Jones, who has dedicated her life to instilling hope and healing in communities and society at large with a career as a civil rights activist, health policy advocate and social architect spanning more than four decades. In an effort to level the playing field for all people, Dr. Jones continues her unyielding commitment as a change agent, working to eliminate disparities in community and individual health, and to improve community development and opportunity.

Located in the Watts-Willowbrook area of South Los Angeles, CDU is a private, nonprofit, student-centered, minority-serving medical and health sciences university that is committed to cultivating diverse health professional leaders who are dedicated to social justice and health equity for underserved populations through outstanding education, research, clinical service, and community engagement.

Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science’s 34th Annual Commencement Ceremony at StubHub Center

 

Robust Support System and Millions in Housing for Veterans

(Left to Right) LA County Veterans’ Advisory Commissioner and Army Veteran Dennis Tucker, Marine Veteran and Formerly Homeless Advocate Wendell Blassingame, LA County Community Development Commission Executive Director Monique King-Viehland, Soldiers Project Executive Director and Marine Veteran Michael McDowell, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center Executive Director and Marine Veteran Tess Banko, Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative Co-Chair and Vietnam War Veteran Tony Hicks, and LA County Department of Mental Health Director Jonathan Sherin. All photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Kathryn Barger to create a countywide support network that will enable veterans to help fellow veterans, and allocate $20 million to provide housing for veterans experiencing mental health issues and housing challenges in Los Angeles County.

“It is fitting that we are taking action on the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network on the day after Memorial Day,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We can never repay our brave men and women for their service to our country, but the least we can do is make sure they have the support they need to lead lives of dignity and purpose.”

LA County Community Development Commission Executive Director Monique King-Viehland testifies before the Board of Supervisors.

“This action establishes a network which enables our veterans to help fellow veterans access vital resources, including mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and housing,” Supervisor Barger said. “Meaningful peer-to-peer interaction and engagement, paired with supportive services and housing tailored for veterans’ needs, will result in improved outcomes for those who have served.”

The motion calls for creating the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network by expanding the number of veteran peers employed by the County, as well as nonprofit organizations contracted by the County to serve veterans. It also incorporates $5 million to immediately facilitate access to existing housing stock through the Countywide Veteran Peer Access Network, and an additional $15 million to create new affordable and permanent supportive housing units for veterans experiencing homelessness.

 Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative Co-Chair and Vietnam War Veteran Tony Hicks and UCLA/VA Veteran Family Wellness Center Executive Director and Marine Veteran Tess Banko testify before the Board of Supervisors.

Tess Banko, a Marine Corps veteran whose husband tragically committed suicide while on active duty, testified, “This motion will not only serve to tighten the fabric of community in ways that are vital for veterans like me and their families, aiding in prevention and overall health, but it will also create a portal for direct access to coordinated services that can help those in need quickly and easily access assistance when it is most needed.”

“(The motion) not only touches my heart, but it touches every homeless veteran in Los Angeles County,” said Wendell Blassingame, a former Marine Corps veteran who used to be homeless but is now residing in a supportive housing unit provided by the County.

Last year’s Homeless Count found almost 5,000 homeless veterans countywide on any given night.

Protecting the Affordable Care Act

As the California Legislature considers state healthcare reform in response to the Trump Administration’s attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion advocating for the following provisions.

  • A “public insurance option” for all state residents, which would force private insurance companies to compete with a public insurance plan, ensuring that they keep their standards high;
  • A mandate for all California residents to purchase health insurance, and for all employers with 50 or more employees to offer employee health coverage; and
  • A “Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund” to address the root causes of preventable conditions.

The Board bifurcated the motion and voted 4-1 to also endorse exploring an “all-payer” payment system that would set prices for healthcare providers and plans in California. Such a system, which has worked well in Maryland, could limit price increases and substantially reduce administrative burdens for all healthcare stakeholders.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with doctors and nurses to advocate for protecting the Affordable Care Act.

“I am committed to doing everything within my power to maintain the hard-fought gains we’ve made under the ACA in LA County, regardless of the disingenuous attempts to undermine it,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, principal author of the motion. “We must act, and act decisively, to protect our residents.”

“After all their efforts to repeal the ACA failed, President Trump and Congress continue to work to weaken the ACA like little ducks trying to peck it to death,” the motion’s coauthor, Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, added. “With the ACA, LA County’s uninsured rate dropped from 21 percent to 11 percent with over 1.3 million residents receiving health insurance coverage, and we are adamantly unwilling to see our progress reversed.”

The ACA also enabled 380,000 individuals to receive subsidized coverage through the state-based insurance exchange, Covered California. LA Care Health Plan offers a public insurance option for all County residents through Covered California. Its CEO, John Baackes, said, “There is no question that an L.A. Care-style public option is a viable solution to the healthcare chaos that has the nation in its grip,” Baackes said. “It would not be a matter of starting over from scratch, but rather an expansion of something that is working.”

During a recent press conference at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, dozens of medical practitioners and health industry leaders also supported protecting the gains made through the ACA. “The expansion of insurance coverage under the ACA was a game-changer for our patients and our hospital,” noted Harbor-UCLA Medical Center chief medical officer, Anish Mahajan.

L-R: California Physicians Alliance’s Steve Tarzynski, Health Access CA’s Joan Pirkle Smith, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s Anish Mahajan, Public Health’s Barbara Ferrer, Community Health Councils’ Sonya Vasquez, SEIU Local 721’s Patrick Del Conte.

California Physicians Alliance President Dr. Stephen Tarzynski said the motion calls for “key steps toward a unified publicly financed single payer system that will cover everyone in our state.” County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer added, “Access to quality public health services, including community disease prevention and wellness efforts, is essential to achieve healthy people in healthy communities.”

Sonya Vasquez, president of Community Health Councils, a community-based health education and policy nonprofit, said, “While we must continue to fight against federal attacks that threaten our healthcare system, we must also continue to move forward and create our own system for California that values the most vulnerable, puts care over profits, and understands the social determinants of health.”

“While the President and Congress continue to seek to sabotage our health system and take us backward, LA leaders are appropriately looking for ways to not just protect our progress, but to go forward with needed improvements,” added Joan Pirkle Smith, president of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

L-R: LA Care’s John Baackes, Health Access CA’s Amy Wiwuga, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s Anish Mahajan, and SEIU Local 721’s Patrick Del Conte attended the Board of Supervisors meeting to testify in support of the motion.

LA County Distributes 20,000 Gallons of Water in Willowbrook and Compton

Residents line up to get bottled water at Sagrado Corazon Church in Compton.

At the direction of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County distributed approximately 20,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of Willowbrook and Compton amid continued concerns about brown water running through their taps.

The County Fire and Public Health Departments, in collaboration with other agencies and community-based organizations, stepped up to help because the independently operated Sativa Water District had limited capacity to respond to customers worried about the quality of their drinking water.

Sativa recently flushed its pipes after an extended period without proper maintenance, and the lingering sediment caused intermittent discoloration and cloudiness in the water supply. While testing found that the water does not pose a health risk and meets the standards of the state Water Resources Board, many of Sativa’s 6,800 customers reported continuing discoloration and lack of access to clear drinking water.

Though it is the state that holds the authority to regulate Sativa’s water quality, the County took the initiative to distributed bottled water to Willowbrook and Compton residents at several locations on April 27-29. The County also provided additional testing and educational outreach.

“I want to applaud County departments for ensuring that residents have access to bottled water, especially when the water coming out of their taps is discolored or cloudy,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The County is also urging state regulators to monitor Sativa and ensure that its customers’ drinking water is clean, clear and safe.”

Only a few days before, the Board of Supervisors approved his urgency motion activate a strike team to investigate Sativa’s water quality and take immediate steps to prevent any serious risks to public health.

The motion also called on County agencies to determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s existing infrastructure issues and ensure that customers have ongoing access to clean and safe water. This could include working with the Local Agency Formation Commission and the State Water Resources Control Board to explore options to dissolve Sativa and identify a more sustainable water purveyor for the area.

“No one should have to drink discolored water,” said County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.  “We will work with the State Water Resources Control Board to ensure the water remains safe to drink, and to ensure that local water companies offer bottled water to residents experiencing discolored water.”

To report continued water discoloration, Sativa customers can call:

State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water
(818) 551-2004
https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/program

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
(888) 700-9995
http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh

LA County Fire and Public Health Department staff unload pallets of drinking water for distribution.