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Rebuilding Talks on Quake Aid : A pending resolution would increase local officials' control over funds

November 05, 1995

A historic library hundreds of miles from here stands as the nightmare scenario for Northridge earthquake recovery.

The library is at Stanford University. Part of it was badly damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Stanford officials finally reached an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on rebuilding costs in 1994. The library is not expected to reopen before 1997.

It was not that difficult to imagine such a scenario here. To be sure, there have been indications of a rift among the Clinton Administration, California and local officials over the amount of federal money needed to repair public facilities such as hospitals, universities and schools.

In September, for example, state Office of Emergency Services Director Richard Andrews said "bureaucratic pedantry" best described FEMA actions. And a FEMA spokesman shot back: "Anyone who thinks this is bureaucratic red tape thinks we can operate without laws."

So, it came as very welcome news the other day to hear FEMA Director James Lee Witt and Andrews say they now hope to have an agreement on remaining Northridge aid by the second anniversary of the Jan. 17, 1994, earthquake. That's the kind of talk we like to hear, especially since we now face another unfolding nightmare in the form of swindler home contractors who have been paid to do retrofit work that was never required.

At the heart of the plan for schools and hospitals is putting an end to an approach that has sometimes led to years of arguments and appeals. That has surfaced in past disasters in arguments over which codes apply, what constitutes real disaster-related damage and what level of rebuilding ought to apply.

The approach would allow local officials to use federal disaster relief funds to rebuild earthquake-damaged public facilities as they see fit, once a monetary amount is agreed upon.

The goal now will be to agree on reasonable funding amounts for remaining quake damage. Who wants to start the new millennium fretting over Northridge disaster aid?

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