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California and the West

Clinton Urges Increased Disaster Aid for State

March 04, 1998|JONATHAN PETERSON and KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration will request an additional $177.3 million in disaster aid for California, White House officials said Tuesday night.

The proposed infusion of assistance, which is subject to approval by Congress, would be added to at least $40 million in aid previously announced by the administration to help California recover from a series of punishing storms.

"The administration has made it a top priority to respond swiftly and efficiently and compassionately to natural disasters in California and elsewhere in the country," a White House official said late Tuesday. "This is another effort to help Californians restore their lives, following yet another unforeseen disaster."

The $177.3 million in additional relief funds would be divided among several federal agencies:

* $126 million to the Department of Transportation for emergency highway repairs;

* $25 million to the Army Corps of Engineers for debris removal;

* $19.7 million to the Department of Interior for trail restoration and debris removal;

* $6.6 million to the Department of Agriculture to aid dairy and livestock farmers and pay for storm cleanup efforts and other expenses.

Meanwhile, California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush rejected the idea of state-sponsored landslide insurance for hillside homeowners Tuesday, saying that it would be too costly and benefit too few people.

In a separate development, however, a California legislator offered El Nino victims hope for a break on state income taxes.

"A landslide authority would not be a viable option for two reasons," said Dana Spurrier, deputy commissioner and press secretary to Quackenbush. "First, it would be too expensive for homeowners to purchase coverage, and second, only a small percentage of California homeowners would be interested in buying it."

There is almost no landslide or mudslide insurance available now from private insurance companies. After homes statewide were devastated by mudslides from El Nino-fueled storms in February, Quackenbush announced that he would consider the viability of a state-sponsored insurance program, similar to the California Earthquake Authority.

But he has concluded that the two potential disasters differ, Spurrier said.

"The reason why the California Earthquake Authority is so vital to this state is because earthquake risk prevails statewide, affecting hundreds of thousands of people," she said.

"Earthquake insurance is affordable because the risk is spread among low-, moderate- and high-risk areas. Landslide coverage would only be purchased by people who were at high risk," she said, leaving too few policyholders to provide the premium income to cover disaster reimbursements.

The announcement is yet another blow to hillside homeowners trying to protect their property from the recent rains that saturated soil, lubricated bedrock and sent structures sliding down slopes.

In a separate action, Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles) announced Tuesday that he intends to introduce legislation to provide tax relief to the mudslide victims.

Knox, chairman of the Assembly's Revenue and Taxation Committee, unveiled the proposal at a house in the 3800 block of Eureka Drive in Studio City that collapsed in a mudslide Saturday night.

"For homeowners who are being hit with devastating losses, I want to bring immediate relief through the tax system so that they can get back into their homes as soon as possible," Knox said.

Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa has sent a letter to Gov. Pete Wilson requesting a special session of the Legislature to accelerate the process of getting disaster aid to victims, Knox said.

Peterson reported from Washington and Haynes from the San Fernando Valley. Times staff writer Martha Willman in the Valley contributed to this story.

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