LAPD fireworks explosion has cost the city $9.5 million so far, with number expected to rise

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Community members put signs before a news conference in front of their homes to protest the city's handling of the June 30 LAPD fireworks explosion that damaged local homes. on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA.(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Community members put signs before a news conference in front of their homes to protest the city's handling of the June 30, 2021 LAPD fireworks explosion that damaged local homes. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Police Department’s botched detonation of illegal fireworks in South L.A. in 2021 has cost the city $9.5 million so far, the controller's office reported Thursday.

City Controller Kenneth Mejia's office said that an additional $1.7 million has been committed but not yet spent.

In an email, Diana Chang, a Mejia spokesperson, said the relocation of displaced residents has cost $4.9 million, liability claims $1.7 million, cleanup and repair $1.55 million, $1.3 million for the LAPD's containment vehicle — to replace the one destroyed by the blast — and $44,000 for city labor, not including the cost for police officers.

The final cost for city taxpayers is not yet clear, as dozens of residents continue to live in a hotel downtown and claims related to the blast remain outstanding.

"Even before we took office, many Angelenos let our office know that they’re very interested in the costs that taxpayers will end up footing for the fallout from LAPD’s fireworks detonation," Mejia said in a emailed statement. "As the city’s response is still ongoing, these costs are still ongoing as well. We’re committed to doing our part in keeping the city accountable and transparent in regards to the explosion and its aftermath."

Read more: LAPD refused to ID officers behind a huge fireworks explosion. Now we have their names

The June 30, 2021, explosion in the 700 block of East 27th Street injured 17 people and badly damaged homes.

The illegal fireworks were found at the home of Arturo Ceja III, who pleaded guilty in federal court to unlicensed transport of explosives from Nevada to California. Last year, he was sentenced to five months in prison and two years of supervised release. Ceja was not fined and will pay no restitution, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Despite repeated demands from residents who lost their homes to the blast, the name and formal discipline of officers involved in the matter had largely remained veiled, thanks to the LAPD’s secretive disciplinary system and its refusal to discuss personnel matters. In July, The Times identified the bomb squad personnel involved.

More than 80 residents were displaced by the explosion. As of this month, about 39 residents are still residing in 13 rooms at the Level Hotel downtown. The staff of Councilman Curren Price, in whose district the explosion occurred, said they will extend the contract at the hotel beyond the end of this year.

"The city a long time ago could have purchased properties and moved people into them already, but instead they have given millions of dollars to the hotel, and the people still are in the same situation they were immediately after the explosion," said Ron Gochez, a community organizer with Unión del Barrio who has helped organize residents.

"I think that the leadership of the city, the controller, the mayor, the City Council, needs to take action already to make things right for the residents and to stop wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars unnecessarily."

The city has received 417 claims relating to the fireworks blast, and 134 of them have been settled and paid, according to the city attorney’s office. More than 100 were closed due to the statute of limitations, and 20 claims remain open. Others are in litigation, a few were denied and others closed at the claimant's request. Payouts so far have totaled $2.02 million.

"Since the inception of this tragedy, every affected individual has been offered a wide range of services, including financial support, mental and social support, housing, and home repairs," Price said in an emailed statement. "My team and I have been actively engaged, tirelessly working to assist victims in navigating this unprecedented situation, and we will persist until we can ultimately bring a conclusion to this unfortunate situation."

At least 40 affected residents met with Mayor Karen Bass for about an hour Wednesday night, according to Gochez. That included homeowners and renters who have not yet been able to return to the neighborhood.

Residents "shared their frustration, their anger, their resentment toward city government for dragging their feet for more than two years now," Gochez said. People grew emotional at times.

Maria Velasquez, who rented a unit from her parents on the street before the explosion displaced them, told Bass she feared they would become homeless due to the actions of the LAPD. Juana Oceguera said the rent on her new apartment is so high that she worries her family might have to one day live in their car.

Another resident, Cindy Reyes, shared that her father died after the blast. She’s helping her mom pay the mortgage and said they’ve taken steps to fix their home.

Reyes told Bass they need help in fast-tracking the process so repairs can be made and they can return to their home of more than 20 years.

Gochez said the mayor was "receptive and sympathetic." He added that community members invited Bass to visit them on 27th street and offered to have carne asada for her.

They were told that she would consider it, Gochez said.

"She has a real chance to be a hero, she has a chance to fix something the previous mayor could not," Gochez said. "So far she's been missing the opportunity, but we hope that she reconsiders and does the right thing."

In an emailed statement, the mayor's office said Bass "is working with Councilman Curren Price and city departments to do what they can to make these families whole in the wake of this tragic incident that occurred more than 2 years ago." The meeting Wednesday, "continued that effort."

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.