SACRAMENTO — The Legislature Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $91-million package of emergency financial aid for victims of the Oct. 1 Southern California earthquake, including $10,000 grants for homeowners, tax breaks, and low-interest loans to rehabilitate their damaged dwellings.
The legislation, an open-ended disaster relief package that could cost far more than $91 million when the damage is ultimately totaled, was sent to Gov. George Deukmejian on a series of mostly unanimous roll calls in the Senate and Assembly.
Deukmejian, who called the Legislature back from its fall recess to draft the earthquake relief program, is expected to sign the six-bill package later in the week.
The Legislature, which began meeting in special session Monday, adjourned until January after passing the last of the bills. Shortly before adjournment, Deukmejian, under pressure from lawmakers, added victims of last summer's Northern California wildfires to the list of aid recipients.
Just how long it will take to get the money into the hands of earthquake victims remains to be seen.
Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra), author of one of the bills, said, "We hope to have the program in place in 30 days."
The program is chiefly designed to help earthquake victims whose losses are not covered by existing federal or state programs. The city of Whittier bore the brunt of the damage from the quake, but the damage zone stretched from the San Gabriel Valley to northeast Orange County.
Calderon, noting that the program is intended to help those Californians who ordinarily would not be eligible for government assistance, told reporters that "some will be made whole, depending upon how they meet the various criteria. I believe that (most) people will be made nearly whole."
The relief package, which closely followed the program proposed by Deukmejian, was carried by Sens. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk) and by Assemblymen Frank Hill (R-Whittier), Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and Calderon.
Passage of the bills was accompanied by a flurry of last-minute amendments that left some lawmakers complaining that the Legislature was moving too quickly. Negotiations went through Monday night, and the finishing touches were not put on the package until Tuesday morning.
As originally drafted, the package of six bills carried a price tag of $137 million in the Assembly, while the Senate estimated the costs at $110 million.
Amendments brought the price tag down to $91 million, although the appropriation is open-ended, meaning that it can increase over its three-year life span, and the ultimate cost could be higher.
The package was put together in the form of what government officials call a "continuous appropriation." In this case, it means that the state is committed to provide funding for the program as long as applications are made and property owners are considered eligible.
Disagree on Estimates
Calderon said damage estimates are difficult to pin down. "We don't know what the total damage is. We can't get reliable estimates," he said.
However, Assemblyman Hill, one of the chief Republican negotiators, disagreed. "We have very firm estimates. We think the total cost (to the state) will be right about $90 million," he said.
No matter how it shakes down, the federal government will assume most of the costs of the disaster, which state officials say could total at least $358 million in damage to public and private property.
Throughout the two-day special session, legislators complained constantly that California lacks a comprehensive program to deal with earthquake disasters. They called it regrettable that the Legislature must be called into session to provide relief on a piecemeal basis.
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said developing such a plan should be a top priority item when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Roberti said the state must be prepared for what he called the "Goodby California Earthquake," a quake of extraordinary magnitude that some scientists predict is certain to occur some day.
'Most Judicious Use?'
A Republican analysis of the Calderon bill granting low-interest loans of up to $20,000 said very wealthy people could receive the taxpayer-subsidized loans and questioned whether this is "the most judicious use of taxpayer funds."
The analysis also noted that "there is no effective cap on the amount of money which may be borrowed from the new state program."
While most of the bills passed unanimously, the Calderon bill received seven no votes.
One of the no votes was cast by Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge). "I am not against providing assistance to people who need it. I just don't think this is the best way to do it," she said.