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Santa Monica's Greatest Shortage May Be Answers : Quake aftermath: Who gets disaster relief? What do those yellow tags mean? What rights do tenants have? The city, faced with 3,100 unsafe apartment units and thousands of job losses, is trying to relieve the anxiety.

January 27, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bobbe Paris pushed her baby son's stroller down 2nd Street in Santa Monica. Max was all smiles, but, after a visit to the federal disaster aid center, his mom was in tears.

"There's no money for me because I'm (already) homeless," Paris said. "How can I get President Clinton on the phone?"

One of the newly homeless, an elderly woman who lived in the now unsafe Charmont apartments, had a question of her own. "Are we just supposed to forget we have furniture or what?" Joyce Jackson asked city officials at a community meeting.

And what about paying the rent, rescuing your mother's engagement ring and, arguably, the most-asked question over the past week: What does a yellow tag mean?

Ten days after being crippled by the earthquake, there is no end to questions in Santa Monica, the Westside city hit hardest by last week's earthquake. But there has not been an abundance of answers, as those who live and work in the city try to put their lives back together.

"There's a tremendous amount of anxiety out there," Councilman Ken Genser said.

Moving swiftly to allay tenants' fears that they will be sent packing, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday passed emergency measures that place a moratorium on evictions from unsafe structures and require property owners to have a structural report on their buildings in 30 days or face fines.

The ordinances passed unanimously, despite arguments that the laws will do precisely what the council promised it would not do--put an undue onus on property owners, rather than facilitate their recovery from disaster.

"I'm concerned about the message," Councilwoman Asha Greenberg said. "Everything we're doing is punitive in this ordinance."

Initial reports indicating Santa Monica suffered greater damage than other Westside areas--and perhaps as much as anyplace except around the Northridge epicenter--were reaffirmed this week. The only Westside damage to rival it occurred in Hollywood.

The grim update on Santa Monica's damage was provided to the City Council Tuesday night by City Manager John Jalili. He reported that 530 buildings have been declared unsafe, including 59 multiunit buildings containing 3,100 units--about 12% of the apartment housing stock.

That means that 4,000 apartment dwellers are unable to stay in their units, a tally that does not include displaced homeowners, merchants, and owners and employees of businesses--among them St. John's Hospital.

Though hospital administrator Tom Pyne vows that St. John's is "going full-steam ahead" to repair and rebuild, the hospital's 2,000 employees have been laid off and told to apply for unemployment benefits.

"There's nothing else to do," Pyne said.

No job loss statistics are available yet, but the layoffs at St. John's alone, the city's largest employer, foretell a much larger problem as businesses with no place to operate shed their staffs.

In a separate report to the City Council, Santa Monica Finance Director Mike Dennis estimated the short-term tax revenue loss to the city at $2 million to $7.4 million.

Despite a tactical alert and extra officers on loan from the sheriff's department, Sgt. Gary Gallinot said at least two dozen reports of looting have been received, including one apartment burglary at which $37,000 worth of goods were stolen.

While police tried to keep the peace, Mayor Judy Abdo said she has been lobbying federal officials for a bigger share of disaster relief than Santa Monica would be entitled to under the usual aid formulas, which are tied to the amount of poverty in the city.

The aid "needs to be based on the amount of damage done and the numbers (of people) impacted, not on what we normally get," Abdo said. "We have a great need for (it) now to recover."

As part of its efforts to reach out to the community, the city conducted a public workshop on Saturday, answering questions for two hours. All affected city department heads were on hand to provide updates and reassure people, who remained calm and positive despite jangled nerves.

"I love Santa Monica," said one resident of the condemned Sea Castle apartments. "Where else can you get a call back from a City Council member even during a disaster?"

Sea Castle residents, who have a history of strife with their landlord, are particularly worried that the earthquake will be used as a rationale to get rid of them. Other tenants also expressed fears that they could not trust their landlord to provide an unbiased structural report .

Mindful of the anxiety of residents who couldn't get to treasured possessions and important documents, the Fire Department has set up a program to shore up buildings to allow rescue teams to retrieve possessions.

Related story, page 14

Westside Toll

Latest estimates of earthquake damage for Westside cities and communities. Totals are expected to change.

Santa Monica $117 million

Hollywood $40 million

Beverly Hills $20 million

Culver City $2.2 million

West Hollywood $700,000

Note: Damage estimates for Bel-Air/Beverly Glen, Marina Del Rey, Malibu, Pacific Palisades and Venice were not available.

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