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Bottle Village Loses FEMA Funds

Repairs: Agency cites misleading information given on application in withdrawing $505,999 to fix quake damage at the folk-art creation.

March 15, 1997|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — A hard-nosed petition drive by Simi Valley Councilwoman Sandi Webb and a misleading federal aid application succeeded Friday in killing earthquake repair funds for the controversial junk-art site known as Bottle Village.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt on Friday withdrew $505,999 in federal and state money that supporters had begun spending to repair damage that the 1994 Northridge earthquake did to the cluster of whimsical buildings at Bottle Village.

And Witt ordered the Preserve Bottle Village Corp. to pay back the $18,900 spent so far on repairing the 22 buildings that the late, eccentric Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey had fashioned from beer bottles, doll heads, license plates, TVs and cement.

Bottle Village supporters had described the place as open to the public in applications for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Vallee Bunting, a FEMA spokeswoman.

But after complaints from Webb and U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) prompted a federal audit, the FEMA inspector general's office determined that Bottle Village has actually been closed since 1984, Bunting said.

"Our regulations say that a facility must be open at the time of the disaster," Bunting said Friday.

"There may be a different interpretation on whether the facility was open or not," Bunting said. "But they did submit documentation saying that since they allow groups occasionally to come through, and they have people sometimes come and use the facility, they consider this to be a facility that's open to the public."

Bottle Village backers were mum Friday on the loss of more than half a million dollars in funds they hoped to spend on restoring Prisbrey's folk-art creation to its original state.

"We're going to be having a press conference real soon--next week--on this," said Daniel Paul, the 24-year-old curator of the Bottle Village restoration. "I have no comment on the situation right now."

But Webb and Gallegly were quick to claim victory over something they saw as a shameful waste of public funds.

"I'm so relieved, I really am," Webb said.

The councilwoman said she met Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with FEMA officials to plead her case and to hand them petitions bearing the signatures of 2,100 people who agreed with her call to "bulldoze Bottle Village" rather than restore it at taxpayer cost.

And she criticized FEMA for giving the green light to something like Bottle Village when it had begun billing mobile home residents--many of them lower-income senior citizens--for money that the agency overpaid them on earthquake aid grants.

"I think that our seniors will feel that they've been vindicated," Webb said.

Gallegly issued a statement thanking Witt for halting the Bottle Village funding, saying, "I am pleased, as I am sure the residents of Simi Valley are, to know that a half million hard-earned dollars won't be wasted."

He added in an interview: "I'm not very happy with the people that misrepresented the facts for what clearly was the purpose of obtaining federal money."

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