Victims of South L.A. blast to get $21 million

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Three years after the Los Angeles Police Department botched a fireworks explosion in a South Los Angeles neighborhood, a $21 million settlement has been approved by the City Council to assist residents and families impacted by the blast.

The settlement, approved on a 14-0 vote July 2, comes at a time when displaced residents were expressing fears of eviction from a hotel that had been hired by the city to provide housing until homes near the 700 block of East 27th Street could be repaired.

“Over the past three years we’ve been taking hits from activists all over the city about why we didn’t move faster,” City Councilman Curren Price told The Wave. “We’re happy people can get back to some sense of normalcy. It’s been a drawn-out process.”

Price said the impacted residents and families should be receiving their share of the settlement within two weeks. The payments are intended to accelerate repair work on damaged homes and property.

The explosion site is in Price’s district, putting him at the forefront of criticism and frustration from angry residents. Nearly 80 residents were displaced by the blast, which damaged 35 properties and left 17 people injured.

An LAPD bomb squad was attempting to dispose of a large cache of illegal fireworks on June 30, 2021 inside a bomb-resistant vehicle. The detonation ended up causing far more damage than anticipated.

City officials have spent more than $10 million in resources for impacted residents, including paying for lodging at the Level Hotel near downtown Los Angeles. But the slow pace in repairing homes and property led to protests from residents, including camp-outs in front of Mayor Karen Bass’ home.

News of the City Council’s settlement was greeted with mixed emotions from residents who have endured three years of displacement and hardship. 

“In one way, the families are relieved,” said Ron Gochez of Union del Barrio, one of the community organizations supporting the impacted residents and families. “But there’s also a lot of frustration that it took so long. At least people are able to sleep better and not worry about evictions.”

Several families had complained recently that the Level Hotel was threatening to evict them. Eviction concerns grew when news began to circulate that payments would be coming soon from the city. The plan allegedly called for displaced residents to leave the hotel within 90 days after receiving payments.

Residents were fearful that their homes would not be repaired before the 90-day window, leading to potential homelessness.

Geraldyne Hairston, 82, has been living at the Level Hotel since the explosion. Her home was next door to the house on 27th Street where the fireworks were confiscated by police. 

Hairston said she was lying in bed in her bedroom when the explosion happened. She said the blast blew out all 16 windows in her house, collapsed several walls and tore away a part of the roof.

“I’ll probably have to find another place to live whenever my portion of the settlement comes,” said Hairston, a retired mortgage loan officer. “I lived in that house for 20 years.”

A key part of the settlement gives displaced residents more than 90 days to have their homes and property repaired. Gochez said residents will have until next February to return to their homes. Gochez called Price to thank him personally for his role in getting formal approval for the settlement.

Ina statement released after the council vote, Price said victims of the explosion have “endured unimaginable pain and trauma that will last a lifetime.” He called the settlements a crucial step toward their healing and finding stability.

“Over the past three years, this process has been agonizingly slow, and on behalf of the city of Los Angeles, I regret that it took so long to reach this point,” Price added. “However, getting here wasn’t easy and required the collective effort of multiple departments, lawyers, and other stakeholders, presenting significant challenges along the way.”

“We’ve never asked for a dollar amount in this whole process,” Gochez said. “We just wanted things to get done. What happened was not the fault of the people living in this community. If this was Westwood or Brentwood, it wouldn’t have taken this long.”

Most of the impacted residents and families are Hispanic. Several Hispanic-owned businesses in the community were affected by the blast and had to close.

“We’ve been very sensitive to this situation,” Price said. “We’ve also tried to mediate some tensions between the hotel and residents. We want to get folks back in their homes as soon as possible.”

Price expressed hope that LAPD learned from the incident and will adjust procedures for similar situations in the future.

“The truth is, this incident should never have happened and was entirely preventable,” Price said. “It is my firm expectation that LAPD has taken every necessary step to prevent such tragedies from ever occurring again for the sake of our city.”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.

       
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