Business owners harmed by the 10 Freeway fire seek city’s offer of help

After two decades as a produce distributor, semi-retired Francisco Torres Sr., 69, was making plans to transfer some of his company’s equipment to his son’s business.

But his plans came to a screeching halt when a massive pallet fire broke out underneath the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 11. The raging fire swallowed up his business and destroyed about $200,000 worth of equipment including a semi-truck, a pickup truck, five forklifts and other tools, according to the Torres family.

On Monday, Nov. 20, the family dropped by the temporary Business Assistance Resource Center the city of Los Angeles opened to help businesses hurt by the fire that closed the 10 Freeway for more than a week. The fire not only impacted those whose businesses physically went up in flames, but companies who lost business when customers stayed away from the area.

Francisco Torres Jr., whose father lost most of his investment in the fire, said he went to City Hall last week and made multiple calls, hoping to get information about what to do. But it was hard to get answers in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

“The week dragged on,” Torres Jr. said in describing his family’s living nightmare since the Nov. 11 fire.

After city officials talked to businesses harmed by the fire, Jennifer Barraza, Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon’s chief of staff, said on Monday, “Some businesses have reported losses up to $10,000 a day due to the closures and traffic delays.”

Torres Jr. said his family is “grateful for the fact that this city has been able to put something like this together – kind of like a one-stop shop” for assistance.

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon announced on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, the opening of a Business Resource Center to support those impacted by the Interstate 10 fire, which closed one of the nation’s busiest freeways. Small business owners check into the resource center, having lost his business in the fire. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The temporary Business Assistance Resource Center, located at Young’s Market Company in downtown L.A., opened on Monday and will reopen on Tuesday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And next week, the assistance center will be open Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

More than 30 business owners dropped by the center on Day 1, according to staffers there. Business owners affected by the fire and freeway closure can walk in and get their questions answered or receive assistance in filling out paperwork as they seek further assistance.

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de Leon announced on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, the opening of a Business Resource Center to support those impacted by the Interstate 10 fire, which closed one of the nation’s busiest freeways. Officials with Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District and various city departments and small business owners impacted by the fire stood behind de Leon during the press conference. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The center is being funded with discretionary money from de León’s office. The councilmember represents Council District 14, which includes parts of downtown L.A. and Boyle Heights, two neighborhoods impacted by the 10 Freeway closure.

“This closure has had, as we know, a tremendous impact on hundreds of thousands of Southern California commuters who rely on this vital artery,” de León said during a morning news conference on Monday. “We understand the frustrations and hardships faced by our fellow Angelenos — equally devastating has been … the impact on local businesses.”

“The closure disrupted operations and caused delivery delays affecting the livelihoods of business owners, who are at the heart and soul of our community, and quite frankly, the backbone of our local economy,” he added.

According to de León’s office, while the freeway reopened to drivers on Monday, some on-ramps and off-ramps will remain closed for now, meaning that businesses nearby may be hit by a further loss in revenue.

The councilmember’s office had been working with Mayor Karen Bass’ office, city departments and the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District to get the resource center up and running.

In addition to the temporary resource center, the mayor’s office last week announced the launch of a micro-enterprise grant program. Business owners can apply for up to $5,000 in grant money. They have until midnight Dec. 10 to apply.

Daniel Oh, is a wholesaler of women’s clothing. His business, YS Collection, has operated near the site of the fire for 13 years. He estimates he has lost about 70% of his usual business since the freeway closure.

“Customers stopped coming in,” he said. “I have regular customers around the area that (normally) come every day. (They) stopped coming for about a week.”

Oh stopped by the resource center on Monday to seek financial help. He said he was instructed to upload some required documentation and is hoping the money will come through.

Barraza, de Leon’s chief of staff, said city workers and nonprofit workers spent the weekend walking around to affected businesses to let the owners know about the resource center, which on Monday was staffed by representatives from different city and county offices, nonprofits and business groups.

People got one-on-one consultations and information about resources available to businesses, as well as mental health services — and some got legal questions answered.

Barraza also said that business owners who may have trouble paying their bills because of lost revenue could speak to a representative from the city’s Department of Water and Power, for example, to set up a repayment plan.

“While we know it was a less than ideal and a terrible situation for Angelenos, we’re kind of creating that safety net so that they can say, ‘Alright, I can at least figure out how … long it’s going to take me the next few weeks, the next few months to get back on my feet,” Barraza said.

The Business Assistance Resource Center will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at Young’s Market Company, 500 S. Central Ave. and again next week, Monday and Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

City News Service contributed reporting.

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