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Column: Evict the moochers? This is not how to treat victims of LAPD’s fireworks explosion


It was in June that City Councilman Curren Price stood behind a podium at South LA’s Walker Temple AME Church and made a morally just, if politically expedient, pledge to his constituents.

“We remain committed to getting through this tragedy until everyone is back on their feet,” he said.

Nearly a year had passed since the Los Angeles Police Department—in what can only be described as an appalling act of incompetence—inadvertently blew up an entire neighborhood while trying to clear out a giant cache of fireworks.

The explosion toppled cars, shattered windows and cracked foundations. Seventeen people were injured. Worse, dozens of working-class Latino residents were displaced, forced to leave the humble homes they rented and owned for what the city said would be a temporary stay in a luxury downtown hotel.

And so Price doubled down: “We’re seriously not taking away until every family is served, until our community is restored.”

But that was June and this is February. And what is still morally just is now apparently politically inconvenient.

As my Times colleague Brittny Mejia reported, city officials are poised to evict the remaining 57 residents from their 20 rooms at the Level Hotel by the end of March, whether they have a home to return to or not. Looks like the bill — now over $2 million in tax dollars — is getting a little too rich for the city’s blood.

Besides, according to Price, some residents are “playing with the system a little bit,” putting off repairs to their homes and their work with the city and insurance companies — two institutions that are, of course, notoriously quick.

Why would these residents do such a thing? Living packed together in a luxurious hotel room, of course!

“They’ve had a good time living in the hotel for free for several months,” Price told Mejia. “They want that to last as long as possible.”

“We want to take into account the needs of these families, but we also have to take into account that this is not an open-ended project where people can just stay in a hotel for free until they are ready to leave. ,” he added.

As if the residents were more enamored with minibars, whirlpool tubs, and big screen TVs than with the comforts of home, with their own bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and belongings.

I’m actually floored that Price would even unofficially say these words to a reporter. As one of three black members of the LA City Council and its president pro tempore, this is not a good look. In fact, it’s absolutely appalling for a man who represents a predominantly Latino district, which happens to be one of the poorest in the city.

It’s also a terrible look for Los Angeles. We are, after all, a blue city in a blue state, where liberal politicians are only too happy to go on about how they care about people, unlike those cold-hearted, money-grabbing conservatives in red cities and red states.

What Price said actually reminds me of what former Vice President Mike Pence used to say when he was governor of Indiana, when he tried to impose job requirements on poor people who received food stamps and other forms of government assistance. You know, people who were playing the system a little bit, bought lobster instead of government cheese?

In its defense, Los Angeles city officials insist that service providers are assigned to work with any family still living at the Level Hotel to help them access resources and relocation assistance, including applying for Section 8 -housing vouchers.

“The story shouldn’t be that families are on their own to survive after this dire situation,” Price said. “We insisted that they have a variety of services available to help them.”

In other words, they’ve been funneled into the same horrible system that has consistently failed to get homeless people into permanent housing and is so broken that we just had an entire mayoral election to fix it.

Others living in the now boarded-up 700 block of East 27th Street had to try their luck in the rental market. It’s probably going to be bad luck because apartments in Los Angeles County are so expensive that more working class people are going homeless every day than they’re being housed.

It’s no wonder then that residents like Cindy Reyes are fed up. Her family is waiting for the city’s permit to begin major repairs on their home.

Others have fought with insurance companies and battled with city officials over the repairs needed. Some, like Reyes, are waiting for an answer from the city about this or that, or from their lawyers about how they can’t lose more than they already have, even if they keep paying mortgages.

Meanwhile, their houses stand empty, boarded up and uninhabitable.

“Why do I have to endure this battle?” Reyes asked at a recent community gathering. “You blew up my house. Why do I have to do all this?”

In the sudden rush to evict these 57 residents, Price and city officials seem to forget that they are victims — not of some natural disaster, but of a taxpayer-funded man-made disaster. Or two.

There’s the LAPD bomb squad that chose to stack too many fireworks, including the unstable homemade variety, in a containment barrel and detonate it in the middle of a neighborhood. And instead of being careful and weighing the amount of explosives first, a bomb technician decided to guess – and guessed wrong.

And then there’s the city of Los Angeles that hasn’t made it a priority for decades to build enough housing to keep prices affordable. And now these residents, many of whom initially lived in overcrowded homes on East 27th Street, have limited options for where to go next.

There is no need to subject them to another man-made disaster with an eviction. These families deserve to become whole. So far, the city has settled only 129 of the 414 cases. There’s still a long way to go.

In June, Price bragged that “since day one, my office has been at the center of the emergency response.”

Yes, but what about tomorrow?

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