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Price calls on city to extend support for victims of LAPD fireworks explosion

Just weeks after he was publicly rebuked for berating residents displaced by an explosion of LAPD fireworks, Councilman Curren Price on Wednesday filed a motion for the city to continue supporting families still living in a hotel.

Price’s motion would authorize $2.37 million to help with housing for those whose homes were severely damaged. It follows strong criticism of the councillor, who recently told a Times reporter that some residents who live in the Level Hotel downtown are “gameing the system a little bit.”

Price later apologized for what he described as “insensitive” comments and said his office was seeking additional funding to allow the victims to stay at the hotel “for an extended period” beyond the March 31 deadline.

On June 30, 2021, the LAPD bomb squad botched the detonation of a cache of fireworks discovered in the backyard of a home on 27th Street. The resulting explosion injured 17 people and severely damaged homes. More than 80 residents were displaced.

After the explosion, 89 people were transferred to the Level Hotel, which was paid for with taxpayer dollars. Until last month, 57 people occupied 20 rooms there.

“I want to be clear, my office has never walked away from these families in this time of crisis and we never will,” Price said at a City Council meeting Wednesday. “The reality is that (Council District 9) has inherited a tremendous tragedy and my community needs the continued support of the entire city, including our council. The city has an obligation to these residents, and I will ensure that those obligations continue to be met with compassion, care and urgency.”

Price’s motion was introduced Wednesday, after being signed by him and seconded by Councilwoman Heather Hutt during Tuesday’s meeting. Price had intended to formally submit the proposal Tuesday, but the city clerk’s office declined to accept it on a technicality after the meeting adjourned early, Price’s office said.

Now it must be heard in the budget and finance committee before it returns to the full City Council for approval.

The motion would authorize the allocation of $2.27 million for the Department of Community Investment for Families to extend the contract at the Level through June 30, with a six-month extension option. That extension will be done on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with all parties involved, according to the department.

It would also authorize the transfer of $100,000 to the Los Angeles Department of Housing to extend its contract with Overland Pacific & Cutler through January 23, 2024, to continue relocation assistance.

However, some expressed concern that residents are not receiving relocation assistance and that the extension at the hotel is not long enough.

“We were clear with Price’s office that our demand was for indefinite housing for renters and homeowners until they were returned to their repaired homes or to permanent affordable housing,” said Ron Gochez, a Unión del Barrio community organizer who has helped organize the residents of Calle 27. “I’m pretty sure that won’t happen in June.”

In a January letter, city officials told families that the temporary housing assistance contract would end on March 31. Residents would be responsible for any charges at the hotel after that date, the letter said.

In interviews last month, city officials blamed unresponsive residents and their legal advisers for delays in relocating families or returning to their homes.

After criticism mounted, Price pushed back the deadline.

“We will work with the families until they find suitable housing or accept relocation funds,” he said in a statement. “The City of Los Angeles will not abandon them and you can be sure they will not be subject to any type of eviction that could cause further pain and trauma.”

The city has received 414 claims related to the fireworks explosion and has settled 129. Payments totaled $475,209.

On March 1, following the news of the extension, about 20 tenants and homeowners gathered at a community meeting to discuss their needs. A representative from Price’s office also attended.

“Why isn’t Curren Price here?” asked Cindy Reyes, who is helping her mom pay the mortgage on her house on 27th Street.

Reyes, whose family has taken steps to fix up their home, stressed that each family needs to be evaluated on an individual basis. He also asked that families receive a formal letter telling them that their stay at the hotel will be extended.

Other residents expressed concern that Overland Pacific & Cutler had not yet contacted them.

When asked about the results of that meeting, Price spokeswoman Angelina Dumarot said the city is finalizing a letter to send to residents informing them of the extension.

Dumarot added that the office has requested that Overland do everything possible to communicate with families, including through phone calls, emails and hotel visits. Price would also like to start seeing weekly reports from them, he said.

Times Staff Writer Julia Wick contributed to this report.