Costs from LAPD fireworks explosion top $1.2 million, with most claims still unresolved

Costs from the Los Angeles Police Department’s botched detonation of illegal fireworks in South L.A. this summer have surpassed $1.2 million, even as most claims remain unresolved, bills continue to mount and residents decry a lack of progress.

Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council in recent days approved a transfer of $1,163,000 from the LAPD’s budget to “replenish” a special fund being used by Councilman Curren Price’s office to pay for repairs and other costs associated with the blast.

Angelina Valencia, a spokeswoman for Price, said those funds will replace money already spent or be used to pay invoices for services already rendered. More funding will be needed moving forward, as costs associated with the work have already outstripped the total amount pulled from the LAPD, she said.

What the total cost of the blast will be for city taxpayers is far from clear. Residents and local workers have said the efforts put forward by the city to date have been insufficient, paling in comparison to the amount of disruption the blast has caused in their personal and professional lives, and officials have promised to do more.

The June 30 explosion in the 700 block of East 27th Street injured 17 people — including 10 LAPD officers, one ATF agent and six civilians — and damaged or destroyed 22 residential properties, 13 businesses and 37 vehicles, the LAPD has said.

Nearly half the total amount transferred from the LAPD — about $550,000 — has already been spent by the Coalition for Responsible Community Development on repair work they were contracted by the city to conduct on the exploded block, according to city officials.

That work includes CRCD expenses related to “personnel, supplies, cleanup efforts (e.g. window board-ups) and home repairs, cash assistance, appliance replacements, and furniture for impacted families,” Valencia said.

“We expect the number to rise, but this is what’s in the books thus far,” she said.

In a statement posted to Facebook last week, the CRCD said that its teams had repaired an underground gas leak, installed 58 windows at 12 addresses, and completed repairs on nine homes including new windows, stucco repair, wood trim repair and new paint. Repairs were “in progress” at another four homes, the CRCD said.

The $550,000 total also includes the outlay of $260,000 in the form of $10,000 grants to the 26 most heavily impacted families, Price’s office said.

Another third of the LAPD funding will be used to cover a payment of $397,660 for 29 rooms at the Level Hotel downtown, where nearly 90 displaced residents have been put up by the city while their damaged homes are assessed and fixed.

That bill only covers the rooms through Sept. 30, meaning subsequent hotel bills are still to come, as the rooms remain occupied. Under an agreement between the hotel and the city’s Community Investment for Families Department, the city is paying $170 per night for single bedroom suites and $220 a night for two-bedroom suites.

It’s unclear when the families will be able to return home. Some said they still fear their homes are unsafe, and city officials have said some repairs have been held up by landlords who fear accepting help from the city now would preclude them from filing litigation against the city later.

Not covered by the LAPD funding were additional payments of more than $2,000 on Angeleno cards to each of the same 26 families most heavily affected by the blast, for a total of more than $50,000, Price’s office said. The cards were created under the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles to provide cash assistance to city residents suffering from the impacts of COVID-19.

Also not covered by the LAPD funding is another, potentially huge cost pool: monetary claims filed by injured residents and owners of damaged properties, which are currently being paid out of the city’s general fund.

As of Oct. 1, the city had reached settlements in 59 claims, 35 of which have already been paid and 24 others that are awaiting signed release agreements from the claimants, the city attorney’s office said.

The city was awaiting more information from another 128 claimants, including dozens who are represented by attorneys, the city attorney’s office said. Two claims have been denied by the city.

How much the 59 settled claims amount to in dollars was not clear. The city attorney’s office said it could not immediately provide those figures.

The city attorney’s office previously said that the first 26 settled claims had led to more than $30,000 being paid out by the city — including $6,350 to settle 15 claims related to bodily injury, and about $24,000 to settle 11 claims for property damage.

The city’s liability in the matter is apparent, given the findings of both internal and independent reviews of the blast.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found in a review of the blast that the LAPD’s bomb squad had badly miscalculated the weight of illegal fireworks that they had seized from a local backyard and placed inside a “total containment” vessel for a controlled detonated on site.

The resulting explosion blew the heavy door of the vessel off, sending it flying through the air for blocks, and sent out a blast wave that shattered windows and undermined the structural integrity of nearby homes.

Arturo Ceja III, a 26-year-old man living in his family’s home on the block, recently pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of unlicensed transportation of explosives from Nevada to California.

Residents of the street have said Ceja shouldn’t have had the fireworks in their neighborhood, but also that the LAPD should never have attempted to detonate them there — and should be held responsible for miscalculating the firepower and causing the explosion.

They have also blamed the city for responding poorly and allowing too much time to pass without making them whole again. Last month, more than a dozen residents gathered on the block in protest, holding signs, some in Spanish, that read “lies,” “not repaired” and “justice for our community.”

According to city records, the nearly $1.2 million that was drawn out of the LAPD’s budget came from various LAPD expense accounts, including nearly $370,000 from a “contractual services” account, more than $278,000 from an “office and admin” account, more than $200,000 from a “field equipment expense” account, and nearly $90,000 from a “printing and binding” account.

Asked about the funding transfer and how it might affect LAPD operations, Capt. Stacy Spell, a department spokesman, said that the transfer would “largely impact administrative and less-essential activities” and that the department “believes the critical need for these funds to support vital services in the aftermath of the accidental explosion and associated damages suffered outweighs the negative impact to these Department operations.”

Whether the department will be expected to hand over additional funding is unclear.

In approving the first transfer of LAPD funding, the City Council also called for various city departments to report back to it with a $5-million plan for a long-term recovery plan for the affected neighborhood — one that would provide for structural improvements in the area and a “Neighborhood Recovery Center” where residents could receive job training, mental health services, business grants and more.

Price’s office said the council expects to hear from the departments by early next month.

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