San Bruno blast victims could see cash soon

Victims of the PG&E pipeline explosion could start getting long-awaited checks soon from a city fund totaling nearly $400,000 in donations that poured in after the disaster.

Amid criticism that officials have been slow to release the city-controlled funds, two City Council members will lead a meeting Wednesday to hear from residents how to distribute the money.

“I’m hoping they’ll give us a better sense of what’s needed,” said Councilwoman Irene O’Connell, who was appointed to the donations subcommittee with Vice Mayor Michael Salazar.

Salazar and O’Connell plan to bring a report on Jan. 11 to the full council, which could decide to begin cutting checks.

Some victims are frustrated that the donations are still sitting idle. Bill Magoolaghan, whose house was gutted, said families are facing extra expenses, such as up-front fees fo

r architects and engineers, that the donation money could help cover.

Donors expected the money “to go into the pockets of the people who were trying to rebuild their lives,” Magoolaghan said. “For it to be four months later, that seems kind of peculiar.”

More than $2 million in donations to the city and nonprofits, such as the Red Cross, have been collected since the Sept. 9 blast that killed eight people and destroyed or seriously damaged 55 homes.

O’Connell has heard the criticism but said deciding how to distribute the money isn’t easy and officials want community input.

“We have no vested interest in holding onto the money,” she said.

The American Red Cross, which alone received $1 million in donations, has been using the money to fulfill victims’ requests, from getting therapy to replacing home business equipment, spokeswoman Melanie Finke said.

Caseworkers for the agency, which is opening a new San Bruno office in early 2011, meet with families to discuss their needs, she said, though there are no rigid criteria.

The San Bruno Lions Club, which has received about $70,000 in donations, recently got about 10 applications from families for donations, said Secretary Ken Ibarra, also a council member.

The club was expected to act on the requests last week, but could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Many requested items are basic — shoes, toiletries, winter clothes.

“It’s very heart-wrenching,” Ibarra said. “It’s just a brief description of the difficulties they’re going through, and it’s only been 3½ months.”

Help for San Bruno explosion victims

The Red Cross has set up a hot line to allow victims who need assistance to set up a meeting with a caseworker. (877) 773-7229

The city will hold its meeting on the donations on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. at the San Bruno Senior Center, 1555 Crystal Springs Road.

Giving to victims

City of San Bruno
Glenview Fire Recovery Fund,
First National Bank of Northern California,
Millbrae-San Bruno Branch,
1551 El Camino Real,
Millbrae, CA 94030

Silicon Valley Community Foundation
San Bruno Fire Fund,
2440 West El Camino Real, Suite 300,
Mountain View, CA 94040

San Bruno Lions Club
P.O. Box 242,
San Bruno, CA 94066

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