Column: It took public shaming, but victims of LAPD’s fireworks explosion won’t be evicted
Curren Price made a mistake — and he’s owning it.
For more than 24 hours, the president pro tempore of the L.A. City Council has been getting lambasted for what can only be described as tone-deaf comments about the victims of an accidental explosion by the Los Angeles Police Department in his South L.A. district.
The bomb squad had piled far too many fireworks into a containment vessel in 2021 and chose to detonate it in the middle of a neighborhood, flipping cars and shattering windows. Even worse, dozens of working-class Latino residents were displaced by the damage, forced to leave the modest homes they rented and owned for what the city said would be a temporary stay in a luxury hotel downtown.
L.A. wants to evict families living in luxury hotel since botched 2021 fireworks detonation
L.A. officials told families displaced by the botched 2021 fireworks detonation they have to move out by March 31, leaving some worried about shelter.
Price, apparently irked by the mounting bill — now topping $2 million in taxpayer dollars — was ready to evict the 57 working-class residents staying in 20 rooms at the Level Hotel. He had wanted them gone by the end of March, whether they had a repaired home to return to or not.
“They’ve had it good living in the hotel rent-free for several months,” Price told my Times colleague Brittny Mejia this week. “They want that to last as long as it can.”
Well, Price has changed his mind.
In a statement issued to The Times on Saturday afternoon, he said his office is looking into securing additional funding to allow the victims to stay at the hotel “for an extended period of time” beyond the March deadline he had imposed.
“We will work with the families until they find suitable housing or accept relocation funds,” he said in the statement. “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.”
Price also apologized for what he admitted were “insensitive” comments.
Specifically, he had told Mejia that some of the residents were “kind of gaming the system a little bit,” dragging out the repairs to their homes, and their work with the city and insurance companies — two institutions that are, of course, notoriously prompt.
“We want to be sensitive to the needs that these families have, but we also have to be sensitive to the fact that this is not an open-ended project where people can just stay at a hotel free of charge until they are ready to leave,” Price told Mejia.
As if the residents were more enamored with having minibars, hot tubs and big-screen TVs than the comforts of home, with their own bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and belongings.
I was actually floored that Price would say such words on the record to a reporter — and I wrote as much in an earlier version of this column.
As one of three Black members of the L.A. City Council and its president pro tempore, this isn’t a good look. In fact, it’s an absolutely terrible one for a man who represents a majority Latino district, which happens to be one of the poorest in the city.
It’s also a terrible look for Los Angeles. After all, we’re a blue city in a blue state, where liberal politicians love to go on and on about how they care about people, unlike those coldhearted, penny-pinching conservative politicians in red cities and red states.
A year after the LAPD blew up a South L.A. block with fireworks, 18 families are still living in a hotel, symbolizing failed city attempts to make them whole.
What Price said actually reminded me of what Republican former Vice President Mike Pence used to say when he was the governor of Indiana, trying to impose work requirements on poor people who received food stamps and other forms of government assistance. You know, people who were “kind of gaming the system” a little bit, supposedly buying lobster instead of government cheese?
Apparently, what I wrote hit a nerve.
“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 the statement on Saturday. “I sincerely apologize to the victims, our community and my staff for this error in judgment.”
Indeed, Price has been far more inspiring in the past.
Back in June, he stood behind a lectern at Walker Temple AME Church in South L.A. and made a morally righteous, if politically convenient, promise to his constituents.
“We remain committed to seeing this tragedy through until every last person is back on their feet,” he said, adding, “We’re serious about not leaving until every family is served, until our community is restored.”
Almost a year had passed since the LAPD’s appalling act of incompetence when he spoke those words. And almost 90 victims had been moved into the Level Hotel, which the city never saw as a permanent solution for the displaced families.
What has happened since has been a series of problems and setbacks.
City officials have said service providers have been assigned to work with every family living at the Level Hotel to help them access resources and relocation help, including applying for Section 8 housing vouchers.
But that just means they’ve been funneled into the same terrible system that has consistently failed to get unhoused people into permanent housing and is so broken that we just had an entire mayoral election centered on fixing it.
Some who lived on the now boarded-up 700 block of East 27th Street have been left to try their luck with the rental market. It’s probably going to be bad luck because apartments are so expensive across Los Angeles County that more working-class people become homeless every day than get housed.
Still others have been fighting with insurance companies and fighting with city officials about the repairs that are needed. Or are waiting to hear back from the city about this or that, or from their lawyers about how not to lose even more than they already have, even as they continue to pay mortgages.
Meanwhile, their homes remain vacant and uninhabitable.
It’s no wonder then that residents like Cindy Reyes are fed up. Her family is waiting on the city to approve permits to begin substantive repairs to its home.
“Why do I have to go through this struggle?” she asked at a recent community meeting. “You guys blew up my home. Why do I have to do all this?”
It’s good that Price changed his mind and recognized his duty to his constituents.
In the sudden rush to evict these 57 residents, what he and other city officials seemed to be forgetting is that they are victims — not of some natural disaster, but of a taxpayer-funded man-made one. Or two.
From a fireworks tip to ‘catastrophic failure’ in 12 hours: How the LAPD blew up a neighborhood
Along with input collected by The Times from local residents, a report by the LAPD’s inspector general helps paint a picture of how guesswork and a laissez-faire management style led to what it calls a “catastrophic failure.”
There’s the LAPD bomb squad that chose to detonate fireworks, including the unstable homemade variety, on a residential street. And rather than be cautious and weigh the amount of explosives first, a bomb technician decided to guess — and guessed wrong.
And then there’s the city of Los Angeles that, for decades, has not made it a priority to build enough housing to keep prices affordable. And now these residents, many of whom were living in overcrowded housing to begin with on East 27th Street, have limited options on where to go next.
There was never a need to subject them to another man-made disaster with an eviction. These families deserve to be made whole. So far, the city has only reached settlements in 129 cases out of 414. There’s a long way to go.
Back in June at Walker Temple AME Church, Price bragged that “since Day One, my office has been at the center of emergency relief efforts.”
After some soul-searching and some public shaming, it seems his office will now be there tomorrow, and beyond.
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