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Wilson's Disaster Declaration Defended : Aid: Some criticize governor's designation of Orange County so that Anaheim Stadium can be repaired.


SACRAMENTO — State officials Tuesday defended Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to declare a state of emergency in Orange County, despite complaints that authorities stretched the disaster law to tap state and federal taxpayers' money for earthquake repairs at Anaheim Stadium.

Last week's powerful temblor rattled homes and nerves throughout Orange County, but the most significant damage was at the city-owned stadium, where a 17-ton Sony Jumbotron scoreboard toppled.

Kevin Eckery, a Wilson spokesman, said Administration officials "understand the sensitivity" of using taxpayers' money to help finance more than $4 million in repairs at the stadium. He said the governor was responding to a request from Anaheim and Orange County for disaster relief.

"Our role was strictly administrative," Eckery said. "Given the severe damage that we've seen in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, how prudent would it have been to hold off in Orange County, when indeed there could have been more damage that surfaced later?"

Orange County's request for help was criticized by some residents and politicians, who argued that it is inappropriate to use taxpayers money to repair a scoreboard.

"It's not only the wrong use of taxpayers' money, but it's an insult to those families in Los Angeles who lost their loved ones and their homes in a real catastrophe," said Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach).

Ferguson said there was nothing he or his colleagues in the Legislature could do to stop the governor's declaration, but expressed hope that public pressure would prompt Anaheim officials to look for other means to finance repairs.

"The people of this country are having a hard enough time without having to pay for the maintenance of a football stadium," Ferguson said. "They should sue the contractor or the insurance company or the engineer, but not use the tax dollars of some poor soul down in Louisiana or up in Eureka."

Cindy Shamrock, chief deputy director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said the toppled scoreboard does represent a disaster for the city of Anaheim, which faced an estimated $8-million budget deficit before the earthquake. As a municipally owned facility, she said, the stadium will be eligible for grant awards, just like a school or city hall damaged in the quake. Such grants do not have to be repaid.

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