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The city that said ‘no’

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“People are ready to hang me from my neck or my feet,” said Gustavo Villa, general manager of Maywood Mutual Water Co. No. 2, which has the most severe manganese problems. A former truck driver and immigrant himself, he took over the company with neighbors a decade ago, and says he is pushing for improvements that mean unpopular moves such as increased water rates. Mr. Villa says that he helped Aguirre and other reformers get elected, but they have turned on him.

Many residents don’t care about the political squabbling. They just want clean water. Padilla became a US citizen two years ago, although he emigrated from Mexico at age 16. He keeps two cheerful red, white, and blue “I voted” stickers in his wallet, next to his driver’s license.

He also is now a member of some of the community groups that do lead testing in apartments with children, water monitoring, and political outreach.

“I joined because of the water,” he says. He and his wife live on his modest pension of about $550 a month. Even $10 a week for bottled water is a steep price in a city where unemployment is 17 percent and 1 in 4 live below the federal poverty level.

After Padilla and others lugged jars of dirty water to the state capital, in October legislators passed a law requiring Maywood water officials to do a comprehensive analysis of the system’s problems. They also tucked $8 million for the city into the state’s gargantuan, $11 billion water-bond proposal that will go before voters next year.

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