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VALLEY FOCUS | Agoura Hills

FEMA to Reimburse City for Repairs

October 07, 1998|SUE FOX

Five years after a mudslide destroyed one home and badly damaged another in Agoura Hills, city officials recently learned they would be reimbursed about $1.5 million by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repairs the city made in the Via Amistosa neighborhood.

The city had been initially approved for a $500,000 grant from FEMA but the city was prevented from beginning hillside and road repairs along Calle Montecillo by a lawsuit brought by several homeowners. By the time the suit was decided in the city's favor in 1996, FEMA had rescinded the grant, saying the time period for repairs had passed.

"We appealed to the FEMA regional director and then to the district director," Mayor Pro Tem Dan Kuperberg said. City officials were turned down twice, but after doling out about $1.6 million--a quarter of the city's annual budget--for repairs, they refused to give up, appealing to the federal agency for the third time and calling for help from their congressional representatives.

"I think we were particularly persistent," said Greg Ramirez, assistant to the city manager. "We were going to try until we ran out of options."

City officials learned of the funding on Monday and credited Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), a freshman legislator who is running for reelection, with a determined push to recoup the money. Sherman said he met with FEMA Director James Lee Witt and White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in recent months to urge the city be reimbursed.

"I went to James Lee Witt and said, 'I know this is the third appeal, and I know the tendency is to think if the first two appeals went against the city that there must be some lack of merit. In fact, this was a case that was correct on the merits. This was an emergency,' " Sherman said.

Under a standard formula, FEMA will pay 75% of the reimbursement, with the state paying most of the remainder. Agoura Hills will be responsible for about 4% of the cost, Sherman spokesman David Tierney said.

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