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Leaders Agree on Open-Ended Quake Aid Plan

November 10, 1987|CARL INGRAM and DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian and legislative leaders of both parties agreed Monday on an extraordinary, blank check relief program for earthquake damage in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Millions of dollars in open-ended state assistance would be provided, without any limit on the total price tag of the program, although there will be limits on how much any given individual can receive.

The accord, patterned after legislation that assisted victims of the 1986 Northern California floods, appeared to set the stage for quick passage today by the Legislature.

Both the Assembly and Senate met briefly Monday on the opening day of a special session called by Deukmejian to provide financial relief to victims of last month's earthquakes. In all, 15 earthquake relief bills were introduced.

Grants to Hard-Hit

The compromise package includes measures ranging from postponing Dec. 10 payments of property taxes until next April 10, to rehabilitating residential housing, to providing $10,000 grants to hard-hit families, to requiring the state to take over local governments' share of repairing public works.

Deukmejian suffered one defeat at the hands of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee when it killed his proposal for the state to pay three years worth of property taxes for homeowners whose dwellings were substantially damaged. Opponents of the plan, mainly Democrats, contended such relief would amount to a gift of public funds, which is prohibited by the state Constitution.

The agreement that was reached was negotiated at a luncheon meeting between Deukmejian and legislative leaders in the governor's office. Lawmakers later said the compromise basically means that the needs of eligible victims will be met quickly. If damage costs exceed current estimates, they said, the state aid can be paid without further legislative action.

The settlement contrasted sharply with Deukmejian's original proposal to spend $80 million in state funds for relief and with an omnibus $135-million bill proposed in the Assembly and a separate $110-million bipartisan package offered in the Senate.

Although Administration spokesmen said estimates of damage to public and private property in Los Angeles and Orange counties is being revised daily, top officials told the lawmakers they now believe repair costs will exceed $358 million.

The state aid, which would be in addition to various federal disaster assistance programs, would flow from the state fund for economic uncertainties, the governor's $1-billion reserve for emergencies.

However, the open-ended assistance plan drew skepticism from some Assembly Democrats, including Mike Roos of Los Angeles. They questioned whether the Legislature should write into the law a blank-check approach for what was regarded as a "moderate" earthquake when the so-called "Big One" that scientists predict will occur someday could devastate downtown Los Angeles and the state would be obligated to pay perhaps billions of dollars to aid the city.

'Looking Down the Road'

"A lot of people are looking down the road," Roos said.

Other lawmakers noted, however, that action taken at this special legislative session would not necessarily apply to a later huge quake.

"In the event we have another catastrophe, the state will help out to the degree it can, just as it has always done," said Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Alhambra), author of one of the major quake bills. "To the extent that we have a catastrophe and the costs are exorbitant and the state can't do it, we won't do it."

Senate Republican leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, who participated in the meeting with Deukmejian and Democratic leaders, supported the open-ended concept.

"The policy of the bills drives the money," Maddy told somewhat skeptical members of the Senate Appropriations Committee who asked for an accounting of proposed expenditures. He said they should not worry about the costs now.

Shortly after the agreement was announced, leaders of both parties huddled to determine who would be listed as authors of the bills and be able to take credit for earthquake relief at election time.

Authors Identified

A legislative source said agreement was reached on six bills that would be authored by Sens. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), Cecil Green (D-Downey) and John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove) and by Assemblymen Calderon and Frank Hill (R-Whittier).

William Medigovich, director of the Office of Emergency Services, estimated that total damages from the Oct. 1 quake and the Oct. 4 aftershock will exceed $358 million, including $252 million to homes and businesses. The worst damage occurred at California State University, Los Angeles, which suffered $24 million in damage.

But some lawmakers, including Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte), said Medigovich's estimates are too low. "You are way off," Tanner told him. "The damages are far beyond what you are talking about."

The Assembly met in a "committee of the whole," a procedure in which the full membership acts as a committee to take testimony and by-pass the time-consuming normal committee hearing process. At one point, only 19 of the 69 Assembly members who checked in attended the floor session.

Homeowners Testify

Six homeowners from hard-hit Whittier testified during the Assembly session, all telling basically the same story: Whether they were insured or not, the damages they suffered went far beyond their ability to pay for them without government help. They complained of delays in receiving financial aid and being turned down for federal government loans.

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