Porter Ranch businesses file claims, take loans to survive during gas leak

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As thousands of Porter Ranch residents move away to flee the Aliso Canyon gas leak, the Southern California Gas Company is helping many people with relocation expenses. But what about the businesses in Porter Ranch who count on those residents as customers? 

The gas company says it's providing many businesses with air purifiers, and has a claim process that anyone impacted by the leak can complete.

"We are encouraging local businesses who feel they have suffered a loss as a result of this incident to submit claims, and we have paid some claims to small businesses," Kristine Lloyd, a SoCal Gas spokeswoman, wrote in an email.  

The claims form is available here. It's the same form individuals use and has no special box for a business owner to check. 

"We filed two claims and never heard a word from them,"  said Douglas Packard, co-owner of Starter Set Pre-School and Child Development Center in Porter Ranch. Before the relocations started as a result of the leak, his preschool had 50 students. Packard says a third of those students are now gone, and he's losing money.  He's also losing faith in SoCal Gas. 

"There's no reason to believe we will [hear from them]," Packard told KPCC. "We're shopping for an attorney now."   

None of this surprises Robert Glassman, an attorney with Panish Shea & Boyle, which is representing some Porter Ranch businesses. He said submitting that online form is an option available to everyone, but businesses should not expect to see results quickly.

"At this point, because a lot of lawsuits have been filed, there is a big lag now from the time a person or business files a claim and the response from the gas company," Glassman says.  

The L.A. County Department of Public Health ordered the gas company to cover relocation expenses for residents in the area.  But there's not a similar mandate for business relief. Glassman believes that SoCal Gas should be offering the same relief to Porter Ranch businesses as it is to homeowners and residents who need to relocate.

"These businesses are in trouble just like the people are," Glassman told KPCC. "Businesses are losing money and revenue because people aren't showing up like they used to."

For immediate relief, Douglas Packard of the Starter Set Pre-school is taking a micro-loan from the Valley Economic Development Corporation (VEDC). The VEDC is offering the loans to Porter Ranch area businesses struggling because of the gas leak.  Packard says his loan is a no-collateral loan for $35,000 with no payments due until a settlement is reached with the gas company. 

Glassman, the attorney, said this kind of loan is a viable option for small businesses in these circumstances. He remembers when the VEDC offered similar assistance after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

"The businesses are going to get better and more timely relief at this point by the VEDC than by the gas company," Glassman said. 



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