Price apologizes for remarks about blast victims

Wave Staff Report

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — City Councilman Curren Price took to social media Feb. 25 to apologize for remarks he made about people still being housed by the city 20 months after their neighborhood was rocked by an explosion of illegal fireworks detonated by the Los Angeles Police Department

“The comments highlighted in a recent interview I made were insensitive and frankly inconsistent with the leadership and compassion in which my office has conducted itself following the 27th Street catastrophe at the hands of the LAPD,” Price said in a statement that was posted to his Facebook and Twitter pages.

Price was apologizing for remarks he made to the Los Angeles Times in an article published Feb. 24 when he said people being housed in a downtown hotel after beings displaced by the explosion “Are kind of gaming the system a little bit.”

“They’ve had it good living in the hotel rent-free for several months,” Price added. “They want it to last as long as it can.”

The city, which has already run up a $2.1 million hotel bill for people displaced by the explosion, would like to get the remaining 57 people still living in the hotel resettled by March 31. But city officials were told at a community meeting Feb. 22 that several families are still struggling to find places to live while their homes await repairs.

Some families complained they are waiting for city permits to begin necessary repairs on their homes that were damaged or destroyed when an LAPD bomb squad miscalculated the amount of illegal fireworks it was detonating.

The resulting blast sent 17 residents and first responders to hospitals, destroyed a bomb squad truck and damaged 22 residences, 13 businesses and 37 vehicles.

Attorney Andrew Jacobson, who represents several of the families that were displaced by the blast, told The Times “the whole process has been very difficult, very time-consuming, at no fault of the victims or their lawyers. … No one here is trying to game the system or get anything more than they had before.”

One family told The Times that the initial offer from the city to repair their home consisted of fixing the windows and repainting the house. 

“That’s not going to work,” Maria Velasquez told The Times, “because our house is broken.”

One resident talked about the home on 27th Street where he had lived for 22 years. Ten people lived in a four-bedroom house and a garage in the back.

One of the bedrooms and the garage conversion were done without city permits. So the completed home repairs included only three bedrooms and the garage was not repaired at all. 

Now the homeowner sleeps on the living room couch and some family members remain in the downtown hotel.

In Price’s comments to The Times, he said some residents have refused to cooperate with the city on the advice of the attorneys.

“Folks are entitled to their own legal counsel, and in many cases legal counsel has advised them not to do anything, not to communicate with the city, not to accept any assistance from the city, and so they are in a state of limbo,” Price told The Times.

But Jacobson defended his clients and others. 

“It’s not that they’re just sitting idle and not doing anything until they get the money,” he told The Times. “They’ve been working with their insurance, they’ve been starting the repairs they can.”

According to The Times, the city has received 414 claims related to the explosion and has reached settlement agreements on 129 claims with a total payout of $474,709.

That doesn’t count the $2.1 million hotel bill and a $1 million emergency fund Price created shortly after the explosion to provide assistance to those displaced. 

Price has spent most of the 20 months since the explosion on the side of the residents of 27th Street. 

He was highly critical of the LAPD in the immediate aftermath of the blast, questioning why his office wasn’t notified about plans to detonate the fireworks in a specially designed unit that was destroyed in the blast.

“My office was not notified of the detonation of this dangerous explosive, and had we been notified we would have said no, said hell no, you can’t do that out here, not like that,” Price said three weeks after the incident.

And after his remarks were published by The Times last week he was apologetic. 

“My office is looking into securing additional funding that will allow families to stay at the hotel for an extended period of time beyond the March [31] deadline,” he said on social media, “while simultaneously working with our providers to create a path toward stable housing for the victims.

“We will work with the families until they find suitable housing or accept relocation funds,” he added. “The city of L.A. will not abandon them and rest assured they will not be subjected to any type of eviction that can cause further pain and trauma.”