By CBSLA Staff

COMPTON (CBSLA) – The city of Compton is being accused by activists of squandering COVID-19 relief funding, facing allegations that it wasted food that was meant to go to struggling residents, along with spending tens of thousands of dollars on customized face masks.

Last month, Tia Walker took photos of dozens of food pallets in the dumpster at Lueders Park, the site of the Compton Food Pantry. (Photo by Tia Walker)

The city was hit especially hard by the pandemic, struggling with high infection rates, high poverty levels and high unemployment.

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“I want more transparency,” Tia Walker, a Compton resident and activist, said. “We have a transparency issue in Compton.”

Last month, Walker took photos of dozens of food pallets in the dumpster at Lueders Park, which is the site of the Compton Food Pantry, run by the Chamber of Commerce and funded by the city of Compton’s United Relief Fund.

“There was food in those boxes, every single last one of those boxes,” Walker said.

According to city documents, the chamber received more than $80,000 for the pantry between June and November of 2020.

“I was angry, but I wanted to get answers first,” Walker said. “So I decided to post on Facebook and see if there was a reasonable explanation.”

One of the chamber’s board members responded to Walker’s post with a comment that read, “hardly anyone was coming to get the food” and the “pantry can’t take it back to the store.”

“When you have this many people going hungry,” Walker said. “When you have people sleeping on the streets in Compton, and homelessness, there should be no dumpsters full of food.”

Compton launched its relief fund last spring, at the beginning of the pandemic: $200,000 of that fund was donated by Dr. Dre, along with entrepreneur and record executive Jimmy Iovine.

CBSLA went through city receipts, and found that while some of the money went for testing and meal giveaways, more than $35,000 went to “Made in Compton” face masks.

“That is a lot of money,” said Adolfo Varas, executive director of the Compton Latino Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve gotten over 50,000 face masks with them getting them donated.”

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Varas is a vocal critic of how the city has spent the relief funds.

“We don’t know if the face masks that they purchased was given out to the Compton community,” Varas said. “We don’t know what was those face masks were used for.”

The city of Compton provided CBSLA the following statement regarding the masks:

“While disposable masks can be given out for one-time use, cloth masks were also necessary for residents who needed them and for essential workers.”

The city also provided CBSLA with the following statement regarding the food pantry:

“The Food Pantry is, of course, focused on limiting food waste to the extent possible. That said, if food spoilage occurs during transit, the pantry cannot serve that food to the residents as it is may pose a threat.”

The chamber sent CBSLA its own statement, calling Walker’s photos “deceptive.” The statement goes on to say that “dishonest cheats can and do set up a manipulative photograph to make staged circumstances incredibly disturbing.”

“I took the pictures as a concerned resident of Compton,” Walker said. “I have nothing to gain from posting those pictures, putting myself out here and asking questions.”

CBSLA’s investigation discovered that during the time the Compton Chamber of Commerce was collecting tens of thousands of dollars from the city, it was also in bad standing with the Franchise Tax Board.

As soon as CBSLA inquired about this, the chamber settled its debt. According to a city spokesperson, the chamber continues to receive $20,000 a month for its food pantry.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dre’s management team had no comment on his donation or how the funds were spent.

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The city will hold a runoff election in June for a new mayor.