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Garamendi Challenges Opponent on Backing

Election: On a campaign stop in Sherman Oaks, the insurance commissioner candidate criticizes Calderon for accepting contributions from the industry.

January 18, 2002|STEPHANIE STASSEL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the eighth anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, state insurance commissioner candidate John Garamendi on Thursday visited a Sherman Oaks apartment complex still in need of repairs and criticized an opponent for taking campaign money from insurance companies.

Assemblyman Thomas Calderon's acceptance of campaign contributions from insurance companies could create a conflict of interest, as it did for ousted Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, Garamendi said.

"He is headed down that path, taking money from the insurance companies, and then he'll dance to their tune if he's ever elected," Garamendi said. "The voters just can't have that happen."

Calderon, a Democrat from Montebello who chairs the Assembly Insurance Committee, responded that he can stand up to the insurance industry. He cited a bill he is sponsoring, AB5, which would prevent companies from using credit records to set rates.

"It's only a problem if you don't know how to say 'no' to the insurance companies," Calderon said.

Garamendi, who served as insurance commissioner from 1991 to 1995, said he and another Democratic candidate in the March 5 primary, former Orange County Assemblyman Tom Umberg, will not accept campaign contributions from insurers.

Garamendi on Thursday visited the Horace Heidt Estates, where $2 million to $4 million in repairs for earthquake damage remains to be completed, according to the owner's attorney.

In preparation for a lawsuit filed in November against Farmers Insurance, engineers inspected the 10-acre complex of 159 apartments, 18 homes and a subterranean garage. The damage they found includes a large crack in the foundation.

Although some repairs have been made, Horace Heidt, who owns the complex built by his father in the 1950s, said the insurance adjusters didn't look hard enough to find damage. "These are hidden things the experts are supposed to know," Heidt said.

A spokeswoman for Farmers Insurance declined to comment on the lawsuit. Attorney Brian Heffernan estimates that it was one of about 1,000 filed in Southern California before the Dec. 31 deadline to reopen claims stemming from the 1994 quake.

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