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Anaheim Defends Pitch for Big A Quake Relief : Controversy: The city says request for funds was made to protect its already limited resources, not to minimize the toll to other areas.

January 22, 1994|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Responding to a public backlash, Anaheim City Manager James D. Ruth on Friday defended the city's decision to apply for state and federal disaster relief to repair earthquake-related damage at Anaheim Stadium.

Ruth said the application was made to protect the city's already limited funds and was not meant to minimize the personal toll suffered by Anaheim's neighbors to the north.

"We are very aware of the plight of the citizens of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and it is quite obvious their needs far outweigh ours," Ruth said. "It is not our intention to take any money or resources away from those who need it most."

Nonetheless, Ruth said, the city's "first duty is to protect the interests of the citizens of Anaheim."

Monday's earthquake toppled the 17-ton Sony Jumbotron scoreboard at the city-owned stadium, causing severe damage. Preliminary estimates put that damage at $3 million to $4 million. The city's stadium insurance has a $6.5-million deductible, meaning the city could be liable for those repair costs.

For a city that is facing an $8-million budget deficit this year, the damage could not have occurred at a worse time. If the city has to pay the repair costs out of its general funds, it could potentially mean cuts in library or park services or city personnel, some city officials said.

Additionally, Ruth said, "the loss of the Sony Jumbotron and advertising panels at Anaheim Stadium could represent a significant loss of advertising revenue to the citizens of Anaheim."

Because of the city's financial predicament, Anaheim officials decided to the seek state and federal assistance. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley on Wednesday declared the county a disaster area, in part to help make Anaheim eligible for assistance.

Anaheim's pursuit of disaster aid, however, has produced anger among some residents in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

"I'm appalled at the audacity of our city leaders," said one resident, Virginia Moyle. "To place the scoreboard in the same category as the losses so many people suffered in this earthquake is laughable. I think they all need replacing--the scoreboard and the city leaders."

Even several state lawmakers for Orange County suggested the city was stretching the purpose of disaster relief and funneling money away from more worthy uses.

"To imagine that the taxpayers of this state would have to pay to put that sign back up is outrageous," said Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach). "If the government can declare a natural disaster and get other people to pay for things, why would anyone have insurance on anything? If the city of Anaheim didn't have insurance on that sign, then they deserve to have to pay for it."

Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange) said the request by Anaheim officials "just demeans the whole intent of what a disaster area is."

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Conroy has relatives who lost their house in the San Fernando Valley during the temblor, and he argued that a single, isolated problem like a downed stadium scoreboard can't begin to compare.

"My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were right there at the epicenter with their house smashed to smithereens," Conroy said. "That's a disaster area."

City spokesman Bret Colson said Anaheim officials have received about a half-dozen telephone calls from people who were critical of the city's actions.

He said city officials "did not expect the type reaction" that they have received.

"We don't want to be first in line (for aid), we just want to be in line," Colson said.

He added that the city was also pursuing other means to fund the repairs, including possible legal action against the contractor who erected the scoreboard and a possible ticket surcharge at stadium events.

Councilman Irv Pickler said Anaheim's request will not mean the city will get money, while freeways, streets, businesses and homes go unrepaired in Los Angeles County.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency "is smart enough to make a priority list and if they have any money left over, we might get some," Pickler said. "If they don't, we won't."

Although Supervisor Riley's action applies to the entire county, Anaheim Stadium was the only structure in Orange County significantly damaged by the quake. County fire officials Friday defended the emergency declaration, saying it will help public agencies recover damages that they may not have detected yet.

Should the city's claim be approved, federal funds could cover up to 75% of repair costs, with the state covering three-fourths of the remaining 25%, Colson said.

Meanwhile, crews on Friday continued to work at the stadium to remove debris and erect scaffolding so that braces can be welded in place to stabilize the cantilever and remove the Jumbotron for inspection.

And city officials also arranged a tour for 3-year-old Garrett Christensen, who feared his beloved California Angels were injured by the collapse of the Jumbotron.

Since the quake, Garrett has been somber and has peppered his mother with questions.

" 'Were they home asleep? Would they be able to play baseball again?' " said his mother, Lori Christensen. "There is something about baseball that he intrinsically loves and Anaheim Stadium is his most sacred place."

The toddler left the stadium happy after being assured of the safety of his favorite team.

Times staff writer Eric Bailey and correspondent Terry Spencer contributed to this report.

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