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Legislators Promise Efforts to Broaden Aid to Quake Victims

October 22, 1987|STEPHEN BRAUN | Times Staff Writer

State legislators conducting a hearing into earthquake relief efforts pledged Wednesday to push for increased assistance to help Southern California homeowners, tenants and business owners whose losses may not be fully covered by government aid.

"There are many individuals who fall through the cracks," said Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Montebello), the author of a bill that would transfer at least $147 million from state reserves to bolster quake relief funds.

The bill is one of several quake-related initiatives that will be considered when the Legislature convenes in a special session Nov. 9. The session was called by Gov. George Deukmejian after the Oct. 1 temblor which rocked Los Angeles and Orange counties, killing three people and causing an estimated $213 million in losses to private and public property.

Government officials from several quake-stricken cities in the San Gabriel Valley and Southeast Los Angeles County testified at the joint hearing of three Assembly committees at Rosemead City Hall that there is an "invisible damage toll" that could push current figures higher.

Whittier City Manager Thomas Mauk said that damage in his city now surpasses $70 million, $15 million more than the most recent state figures. And in Los Angeles, more than 45 homes and 44 apartment buildings--totaling more than 1,200 units--are uninhabitable, according to state calculations.

"The extent of devastation has not been fully told," said Mauk, who added that some Whittier residents so feared losing their quake-weakened houses that they are stalling inspections. "There are people in seriously damaged homes who don't want us to inspect them because they are afraid they will lose their homes."

Although 11,836 residents and business owners have applied for federal disaster aid in the last 11 days, quake victims and government officials testified that they are seeing growing numbers of damaged homes and businesses that are either not eligible for emergency funds or not entirely covered by aid programs.

Business Threatened

"I need to know where I can go and get help," said Carolyn Theisen, a Whittier beauty shop owner who fears that her struggling three-year-old business will be forced to close if it goes too long without short-term aid.

Theisen and other merchants said they are among scores of business owners who face financial ruin if they fail to find new sources of cash soon--a problem not covered by long-term federal programs. In Whittier's Uptown business district, at least 18 businesses are now operating out of rented trailers, officials said.

Theisen was forced to relocate her business to three trailers after the building she rented was declared unsafe by city inspectors. Already having lost $5,000 on relocation costs, she fears that with dwindling customers, she will have no money to tide her over until she is eligible for a long-term Small Business Administration loan.

"Many of us in the Uptown area are faced with the decision of whether to go on or not," she said, her voice quavering.

Changes in Bill

Calderon said he expects to alter his bill to cover the problems of merchants who need short-term aid and to help homeowners who face large deductible costs even though most of their losses are covered by earthquake insurance. Calderon and other legislators also criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency for not sending a representative to the hearing.

FEMA's coordinating officer, Tommie Hamner, said the agency was only notified about the hearing Friday and that its staff was strained by relief efforts here and on the island of Saipan, recently devastated by a typhoon.

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