Limpic guesses that 20 to 30 people have given up their bins after getting jobs in the six months the center has been open. “So far, I haven’t kept a record,” he says. “That’s something I’m going to start doing. But think about it. You can’t go into a job interview with your things on your back. And if you leave them with someone on the street, there’s a strong likelihood they’ll be gone when you return.”
But whatever happened to compensating the original victims of the City’s trash compactors? Since those folks have yet to receive a dime, critics are popping up, including someone who sent an anonymous email to city council members prior to their July 12 meeting. Dan Bamberg also received the email. “Where’s the money, David Ross and Gerry Limpic?” read the email in part. “While the victims were left with nothing to store, Isaiah Project took the money and had a private office made for its staff.” Says Bamberg, “The email doesn’t come right out and accuse Ross and Limpic of putting the money in their pockets, but that’s the implication. Whoever wrote it comes off as somewhat persuasive, although factually it’s completely untrue.”
Nevertheless, Ross found himself before the council on July 12 trying to set the record straight. For Ross, the appearance had an air of seriousness quite at odds with his usual bantering at most council meetings, where he appeals for more public money to spend on the down-and-out. His approach is often oblique. “I have been repeatedly telling the council,” he says, “that if they want to increase the tourist dollars that come into San Diego, they must remove the blight of shopping carts piled high with people’s junk from the views of visitors. But from the dais, they stare into their laptops, and I often can’t tell whether I’m looking at the Nuremberg Trials or The Last Supper painting.”
The ambush that Ross, 72, defused at city council was nothing compared to a physical beating he and another man suffered in mid-June. They were accosted over the same issue, however, that the email to council members brought up. It had been a long time, claimed the assailant, since those who lost their belongings in the fall of 2009 were supposed to get paid. He was sure Ross got the money. And with swings to the face, he sent Ross and his companion to the hospital. The assailant is now serving time for felony battery and elder abuse.
“I’m glad the guy’s in jail,” Ross tells me, “but I understand the problem he was ranting about. The process of reimbursing the original victims has taken way too long.” The law firm of Scott Dreher, who represented the Isaiah Project in the negotiations over a settlement, had been working on finding an administrator to identify and locate all those who were entitled to compensation. There are professional administrators who do such work in class-action suits. But Dreher tells me by phone that the cheapest professional he could find wanted $6000, which he felt would cut too severely into the $20,000 settlement for the original victims. In the final weeks of June, he was still hoping to find a better deal.
Yet on July 1, although Dreher had gone to London to “help my daughter move back home from school,” his law firm circulated a “Status Update” in East Village to alert victims of progress. “A settlement of this case was approved by the Court on May 10, 2011,” read the flyer, which added that the search for an administrator was “nearly completed. The Claims Process is scheduled to begin this month and you will receive additional Notice…and an opportunity to submit a claim. Everything should be wrapped up by mid-September at the latest.” Finally, the flyer stated, “David Ross has not received, and will not receive, any money from this process or from this case.”
By this time, says Ross, he was calling Judge Gallo to complain that the distribution of money to victims was taking too long. “When the judge heard that,” Ross tells me, “he got hotter than a match and called all the attorneys back to court to get them on the ball. By the way, if only our attorneys had published that status update earlier, I might not have gotten beat up.”
The so-called new meeting in court was actually a teleconference call on July 7 among the judge and all the lawyers (Dreher was still in London), according to the City’s Dan Bamberg. “Scott Dreher is the one who asked for the teleconference, and I never once saw the judge get angry in this case,” says Bamberg. “I don’t think Ross spoke with the judge, something he’s not supposed to do anyway. He probably left a phone message in his court.”
The result of the teleconference was a new arrangement. Dreher is now performing the role of settlement administrator. Following a standard procedure in class-action payouts, says Dreher, Judge Gallo specified the following schedule. A noticing period that started on July 22 and runs until August 22 will allow the original victims to state what they lost and make claims. They will then have until September 22 to comment and complain about the settlement and to opt out of it. All claims must be in by October 21. A report to the court about which people are to receive money, and how much, is then due on November 15. On November 22, checks will be cut and delivered to the recipients.
Meanwhile, the future of the Water Man Check-In Center is up in the air. “The manager of our building told me that the wrecking ball will be coming through next January and that we might want to be out by then,” says Ross. “But I don’t think the city council would like to see the 100,000 pounds of people’s belongings we’re storing go back on the streets.” Both Ross and Bamberg are looking at other buildings in East Village that might be used in the future. “We’re hoping that the success of the center will convince the council and other donors to help continue its work,” says Bamberg. ■