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EARTHQUAKE: THE LONG ROAD BACK : 1990 Funds to Bolster Buildings in Limbo : Bond issue: The state is still trying to determine which government structures are most in need of strengthening. Of $300 million OKd in measure, only about $60 million has been appropriated.

January 25, 1994|MARK GLADSTONE and DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SACRAMENTO — Even as lawmakers propose new taxes and bond issues to repair Los Angeles' earthquake damage, about $240 million that voters approved nearly four years ago to strengthen government buildings remains in bureaucratic limbo while the state struggles to determine which of thousands of structures are most in need of repair.

Originally expected to take two years, the process of doling out the money from Proposition 122, approved by voters in 1990, has taken far longer and is not complete.

At the start, a survey of 14,000 state buildings was hampered by a lack of response from building managers and the hassle of thinning the voluminous list, which included structures such as restrooms at state parks and warehouses used to store sand and salt dumped on Sierra highways during snowstorms.

Repeated turnover among the people in charge of the program has further slowed progress. An elaborate computer program written to rank the state's buildings had to be redone when it produced illogical results.

Of the $300-million bond measure, about $60 million has been appropriated, though only about $5 million has been spent, according to the state Department of General Services.

Almost all of the $60 million has been set aside for pet projects of state lawmakers: a Sacramento office building for legislative employees, preliminary plans for new state buildings in Assembly Speaker Willie Brown's San Francisco district, and repairs on a Los Angeles museum that is favored by several prominent Democratic lawmakers.

State officials defend the time lag, saying they want to make sure they do the job right, if not quickly.

"I think we've taken as much time as we need on this," said General Services Department spokesman Greg Sandin. "It's a very involved process."

State officials now say they expect to make a partial list of recommendations public by the end of the year.

Others say the job has taken too long.

In a strongly worded letter to Gov. Pete Wilson, Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) on Thursday urged the governor to make the expenditure of bond funds "one of your highest priorities."

"There is no excuse for the failure to make the timely expenditure of these approved funds," Torres said. "We simply cannot wait much longer for a detailed expenditure plan for bond funds." Torres threatened legislative action unless the Administration acts swiftly.

Torres persuaded the Legislature to put the measure on the ballot in the wake of the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta quake. It was designed, in part, to raise money to repair several severely damaged state buildings in Oakland and San Francisco.

The ballot measure authorized the state architect to probe the seismic safety of all state buildings, excluding campuses of California State University and the University of California.

There was considerable damage on the Cal State Northridge campus, but no other state buildings were seriously damaged by the Northridge quake. Because the state is still putting together its list of buildings in need of retrofitting, the status of state buildings in the quake area is not known.

Originally, the process of finalizing the list was expected to be finished by the end of 1992.

L. Thomas Tobin, executive director of the state Seismic Safety Commission, said that panel's members saw Proposition 122 as the first installment of a 10-year program to keep state and local government buildings standing during severe earthquakes.

"We thought that the money would be spent rather quickly," Tobin said, "and we knew, from the vulnerability of government buildings, that we were priming the pump. It was our full expectation and intention that we would be writing the 'Son of Prop. 122' for the 1992 ballot."

The commission is made up of 17 members, 15 appointed by the governor and two by the Legislature, and was established to advise Wilson and lawmakers on seismic safety issues.

Tobin was reluctant to blame anyone for what has happened since. But he said: "The slowness and delays have been a real frustration for us."

A spokesman for state architect Harry C. Hallenbeck said the agency met numerous unforeseen snags that have slowed its progress.

"I think it could have been done in less time," said Joel McRonald, chief of special programs in the architect's office. "There were some miscues when it got started. There was a change in administrations."

McRonald, the third official in the past three years to oversee the program, acknowledged that his office has received reports for only half the state's 14,000 buildings. However, he insisted, "we believe we have gotten all the big buildings into our process."

The original two-year time estimate was inaccurate, McRonald said. "Somebody just totally misread what was required."

Scientific errors also contributed to the delay.

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