The City Council finally agreed on a decision today about what to do with the relief money the city received for the residents affected by the Sept. 9 fire, ending a monthslong delay that sparked criticism from the community about how the city handled the funds.
The council, led by a recommendation from a subcommittee formed to scrutinize how the city would distribute the donations, voted unanimously to split the money three ways among the residents affected by the explosion, which left eight people dead, 38 homes destroyed, dozens of other homes damaged and numerous families displaced from the Crestmoor neighborhood. Those homeowners whose homes were destroyed in the fire will get the most.
In giving the recommendation, Vice Mayor Michael Salazar apologized to those who felt the city’s delay in giving out the donations complicated residents’ hardships and said the council just wanted to get it right.
“Our responsibility was to do what we felt was the best solution for the city,” Salazar, who along with Councilwoman Irene O’Connell comprised the subcommittee, said at the council meeting. “Even after getting input, our job wasn’t easier.”
But he added that he thought the decision was the fairest way to settle all of the concerns residents addressed at .
Almost immediately after the explosion, as the Red Cross, the city and other organizations were scrambling to set up shelter and recovery services for the residents, donations began to pour in from all over. In total, from both large and small donors, with the city receiving $395,000.
But the city quickly became overwhelmed when it was faced with actually distributing those funds.
Salazar and O’Connell said last week that they felt it was best to wait to give out the donations because PG&E and insurance companies were already beginning to distribute money on their own, and the council members didn’t want the money to be spent in the wrong place.
They were also struggling with different opinions from the community about how the money should be distributed and to whom.
Today’s decision ultimately lifted that burden off the council by allowing the city to move forward with an all-encompassing plan that would ensure everyone who was affected received at least a little something.
“Not everyone is going to be happy with this, but we know what we have to do,” Mayor Ruane said before the vote. “The issue for me was do you base (the decision) on need or do you base it on impact because needs have changed and everybody has their own story.”
The council’s decision will now mean that the donations will get distributed in the following ways:
- For those whose homes were destroyed (38), they will receive $6,000 each.
- For those whose homes were moderately damaged (17), they will receive $4,000 each.
- For those whose homes suffered minor damage (45), they will receive $1,000 each.
A $58,000 fund, composed of the rest of the donations, will also be set aside for homeowners who might have other needs. That money must be spent within the next six months, the council agreed, and council members said they would solicit input from residents in the neighborhood about what to do with that money.
Checks are expected to be written next week, City Manager Connie Jackson said.
Fire survivor Sharon, who didn’t want her last name used for this story, said she “thanked God” for the council’s decision because it meant that the residents with the most needs—some of them her neighbors—were finally going to get access to some much needed help.
“I don’t need a piece of the pie…I’m one of the lucky ones, even though I’m not back in my house,” said Sharon, who has lived in the neighborhood for 45 years. “But hopefully the people who need help will get it now.”
She added that she will most likely opt out of taking the money, although she still had questions about what would happen to the funds if that happened.
In other action, the council voted to approve a new set of building codes, which include requiring all new construction to comply with green building standards. A public hearing is expected to be held Feb. 8 before the council makes a final vote.
The council also approved a petition by the city to replace the fiberglass lining on the walls of the swimming pool at at a cost of $120,000. After 51 years, the lining is starting to peel away from the pool’s walls, which is making it difficult to keep clean. The pool will now be resurfaced and retiled before the pool opens back up to the public.