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Security Aid Falls Short, Mayors Say

Hahn is among group that says distribution of promised $4 billion in federal anti-terror funds to local agencies is inadequate.

September 18, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Federal assistance to help cities guard against terrorism has been held up and diluted by bureaucratic red tape, and what trickles down to local police and fire agencies is not adequate to meet their critical needs, according to a report Wednesday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The mayors' group, made up of leaders from cities with populations of 30,000 or more, said a survey of 168 cities in all 50 states found that most hadn't received their share of the $4 billion allocated months ago by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for distribution to cities and counties.

"Our survey results show that under the largest first-responder funding program, just one in 10 cities had actually received money by Aug. 1," said Tom Cochran, the group's executive director. "They show, unfortunately, that mayors' concerns have been well-founded, and that the long-sought federal funding for our cities' first responders has been both diluted and delayed."

The report was released in Los Angeles by Mayor James K. Hahn, who was joined by San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill and Glendale Mayor Frank J. Quintero. All called on the federal government to give anti-terrorism money directly to cities, rather than funneling it through states.

"The cities are still waiting to get the money for homeland security enhancements. All of us believe that needs to change," Hahn said at the Homeland Security Leadership Summit he convened in Los Angeles.

Brown, a former California governor, said the federal government has set the wrong priority by devoting much more money to fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan than to helping U.S. cities fight terrorism at home.

"George Bush, as far as domestic terrorism fighting, is shadow boxing," Brown said. "We are not getting the money.

"The millions of containers that come into the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach and Oakland could contain nuclear devices, biological devices and no one would ever know. We don't have the funding."

Because Los Angeles is one of 30 major cities identified for special federal grants, it has received some federal money, although Hahn said it is far less than needed.

The mayor said the $44 million designated for non-airport security measures in Los Angeles is far short of the $250 million the city needs to cover the costs of increasing security and preparing for a potential terrorist attack.

The mayors' group, which represents more than 1,000 cities, found that cities spent about $2.6 billion between the 9/11 attacks and last Dec. 31 on homeland security needs.

In addition, the group discovered that many are struggling financially to maintain existing services.

The mayors' report examined 10 programs that provide federal homeland security funding.

Among them was the $1.5-billion Federal First Responder/Critical Infrastructure Funding program, which was announced in April.

States that received assistance were then supposed to distribute 80% of the money to cities and counties by Aug 1.

However, 90% of the 168 cities surveyed said they had not received money from the first responder program by Aug. 1, and 53% had not received notification that they would get any help.

"Again and again, mayors and other officials report that they are not given adequate opportunities to influence their states in regard to how these funds can be used, either in individual cities or in broader urban areas," Cochran said.

The survey found that 30% of the cities, including Long Beach and Kansas City, Mo., said the guidelines for the money do not allow it to be used for the cities' most pressing security needs.

Long Beach, for example, would like to use the money to help cover the cost of maintaining security at its port and airport, but cannot.

Federal and state officials in California said they have gone to extra lengths to rush funding to cities.

"We are confident the states will do everything they can to get this money out as quickly as possible," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the federal Homeland Security Department.

"The money is out on the streets. It's incumbent on the governors to get that money to the local jurisdictions."

Steve Maviglio, press secretary for Gov. Gray Davis, said all the money received by the state that was intended for local agencies has been passed on.

"We have sent everything we have," he said. "It was very slow in coming from Washington. Very bureaucratic."

The California mayors said they are not seeing enough of the $45 million provided to the state.

San Jose, the state's third-largest city, has incurred $25 million in security costs but has received less than $1 million from the federal government, said Gonzales, the mayor.

Part of the problem is that the state passed federal assistance to Santa Clara County to distribute, and although San Jose has more than half the county's population it had received only 12% of the money, Gonzales said.

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