City far from getting families home after LAPD fireworks blast – Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles city officials on Tuesday acknowledged a long road ahead before residents and business owners will be made whole and returned home following the summer explosion of a South L.A. block by the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad.

Nearly three months after the June 30 explosion, which occurred after bomb squad members badly miscalculated the firepower of seized fireworks, only 26 of about 200 related claims submitted to the city have been paid out, officials said during a Tuesday meeting of the Police Commission.

The explosion sent out a blast wave that made some homes uninhabitable, badly damaged and blew out the windows of others, and caused other damage for several blocks. Dozens of businesses, residential properties and vehicles were damaged, officials have said.

In addition to the 26 paid claims, the city was trying to finalize payment on an additional 25 claims, and has requested additional information from 128 other claimants, officials said. Officials did not provide a monetary value of those claims. Individuals affected by the blast have six months to file claim, so more claims could still come in, officials said.

Nearly 90 people remained displaced from their homes, with the city continuing to pay for 29 rooms at a downtown hotel to house them, officials said.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been set aside to pay for those rooms at the Level Hotel, according to contracts reviewed by The Times, but city officials have declined to provide total costs or invoices to date, saying payment has not been finalized.

The latest figures were presented by members of a multi-agency task force established to coordinate various city efforts to look out for displaced and other affected residents and business owners as the city processes claims, makes repairs to homes and provides other services that community members have requested — such as therapy for children dealing with the blast’s aftermath.

The update followed a report by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, made public by the LAPD last month, that found that the explosion occurred after members of the LAPD bomb squad badly miscalculated the fire power of a cache of illegal fireworks that were seized from a home in the 700 block of East 27th Street.

The bomb squad members didn’t weigh the explosives but eye-balled them before putting them into a “total containment” vehicle meant to contain the detonation of the fireworks and the resulting blast, the ATF found.

The vehicle was blown to pieces, its door shooting into the air before landing several blocks away.

Since the explosion, the LAPD has maintained a squad car at the scene in an effort to maintain security and prevent looting. LAPD officials on Tuesday said they are continuing to work with community members to rebuild trust and help restore some normality to their lives.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” LAPD Deputy Chief Al Labrada said.

Members of the task force from the LAPD, the city’s Emergency Management Department and its new Community Investment for Families Department all said their goal is to do right by those affected by the blast, and that they were doing everything they can to ensure progress. But they also acknowledged frustration among the people they are trying to serve.

“The community is frustrated. They’re anxious. They want answers,” said Carol Parks, the city’s emergency manager.

Residents and community activists have questioned the city’s commitment to getting people back into their homes quickly, and criticized the LAPD for causing the explosion in the first place. Some said Tuesday that they are tired of hearing city officials say that they are working as quickly as possible to fix the damage caused.

“I’m at a breaking point. No matter how nice the hotel is … I’m just so fed up. I just want to go home,” said Natalie Quintanilla, who, along with her three children, was displaced from her home on 27th Street.

“They’re saying so many different things and nothing is getting done,” she said. “Everybody is pretty upset.”

Ron Gochez, a community organizer with Unión del Barrio who has helped organize residents, said he was on the partially boarded-up block Tuesday morning, and saw one repairman working and a single new window.

“At this pace, they’ll be done in 50 years or something,” Gochez said. “I still don’t think this is being given the level of urgency that it merits.”

After the task force’s presentation, members of the Police Commission questioned the pace of progress and asked what hurdles were in the way of a more streamlined process for repairing homes.

Commissioner Steve Soboroff, noting that residents had been displaced from about 30 homes, asked for a breakdown of the reasons why each home had not already been repaired.

“Where are we stuck? Is it contractors? Is it bureaucracy?” Soboroff asked.

Parks said some residents and landlords have been advised by legal counsel not to accept city repairs before legal claims are sorted out, while others are just unsure about the safety of returning to damaged homes.

“Each of the impacted properties is its own scenario, and each one has its own story,” Parks said.

Soboroff requested that a “bottleneck report” be provided with the main reason for a lack of repairs at each home where residents remain displaced.

“If we say that there is a unique bottleneck for each one of these, I think we should find out” what it is, Soboroff said.