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LOS ANGELES—South Los Angeles families gathered Monday outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters and City Hall to demand the city immediately fix their damaged homes and hold officers accountable for a destructive fireworks blast set off by a bomb squad on June 30.
A couple of dozen people organized by Union del Barrio and Comites de Resistencia gathered with a letter outlining the families' demands addressed to Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The families are seeking:
• immediate repairs for their homes;
• the names of the officers who gave the order to detonate the explosives in the residential neighborhood;
• criminal negligence charges against LAPD employees responsible for the explosion;
• immediate financial assistance for everyone affected by the explosion;
• full access to facilities at the downtown Los Angeles hotel that is accommodating them; and
• a written guarantee from the city that it will pay for housing until repairs are complete and it is safe for the families to return home.
"More than six weeks have passed since the LAPD fireworks explosion in our community and the city of L.A. has not even started to repair our homes," Union del Barrio organizer and South Central Neighborhood Council Vice President Ron Gochez told City News Service. "Most of the windows on our block continue to be boarded up. We demand that the city speed up the repairs because we want to go back to homes.
"We also continue to demand that the city release the names of the LAPD or bomb squad officers who made the decision to detonate the explosives in our community. We know that the explosion would have never happened in an affluent community because the LAPD would not have endangered their lives."
Regarding the families' demand to have full access to hotel facilities, Gochez said residents don't have access to the pool, gym and other parts of the hotel, and that they're treated like "second-class citizens."
Families also face fear about being removed from the hotels without having another place to go.
"We were told that we could stay at this hotel for 30 days, but now that time is up and we have no idea how long we will be able to stay here. That's why we are demanding a written statement from the city clearly stating how long we will be housed at this hotel," Gochez said.
During the rally, a South Los Angeles resident who identified herself as Kitty said that though her house was minimally damaged from the explosion, it has left a lasting impact on her and her mother. She said she suffers from pain in her ears, her head and neck, to the point that she sometimes can't move her neck.
She also said she has a permanent ringing in her ears and her mom fell because of the explosion. Kitty, who is from El Savlador, added that the blast was also traumatizing to them because it reminded them of living through war before coming to the U.S.
"She said that her mom, at that moment, felt that they were under attack again. Like it was part of war," Gochez said translating for Kitty.
Francisco Romero of Comites de Resistencia's South-Central sector said:
"The families here are organizing and they're banding together because part of the process of trying to bury families under paperwork and time is being isolated," Romero said.
"So what we're doing is forming this committee here of residents to make sure that we're all on the same page, to make sure that we're united in our fight, to make sure that this stays on the front page of the newspaper until the demands are met."
Councilmen Curren Price and Mike Bonin co-introduced a motion Wednesday asking for a report on the city's protocols for providing compensation to victims of city-caused disaster. The motion cited discrepancies in the city's response to compensate nearby residents after the fireworks explosion and a July 11 sewage spill in Playa Del Rey.
"The discrepancy of these two responses, with (LA Sanitation and Environment) subsidizing residents to relocate due to the Hyperion sewage spill, versus households displaced by the LAPD explosion being left to wait for assistance found by their council member, lays bare inequities in the response by city departments to various communities throughout the city," according to the motion.
The June 30 detonation on East 27th Street, near San Pedro Street, sent 17 residents and first responders to hospitals, destroyed a bomb squad truck and damaged 22 residences, 13 businesses and 37 vehicles.
A preliminary investigation into the blast by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives' National Response Team found that the LAPD bomb squad significantly underestimated, based on a visual assessment, the weight of explosive material being loaded into the containment truck for detonation.
Displaced families were initially housed in local motels through Price's office, which also established a $1 million emergency fund, but the city later rented 29 "corporate housing" units fit for long-term residency. As of last week, more than 80 people from 25 households were living in the units.
Two families blamed the blast for the death of two older men in the weeks after the explosion. Auzie Houchins, 72, and Ramon Reyes were evacuated from their homes without their oxygen tanks, according to Gochez, who said that both men already suffering from illnesses.
"When Houchins was taken to the motel, where the families were relocated to, the family says the food that they were provided by the city was really unhealthy and they had a lot of really sugary snacks. So, he was a diabetic and that really didn't help at all and his blood pressure went through the roof," Gochez told City News Service on Aug. 2.
On July 11, 17 million gallons of untreated sewage flooded the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant and discharged one-mile into the ocean. To help residents' quality of life amid the bad odor during cleanup and repairs at the facility, Los Angeles offered residents reimbursements for either air conditioning units or a hotel room from July 22-29.
"While this LASAN compensation is welcome and appropriate, the same level of assistance and compensation has not been offered by other city agencies in other circumstances, impacting less affluent communities and communities of color," Price and Bonin's motion stated.