Faced with $169 million in storm damage, Ventura County supervisors on Tuesday urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to speed the way for federal disaster aid that would help with rebuilding costs.
Supervisors said they can't understand why a federal disaster proclamation has not yet been made, 15 days after torrential rains killed 30 people in eight Southern California counties and caused dollar damage to roads and homes in the tens of millions.
A presidential declaration is necessary to activate federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides dollars for assistance. Schwarzenegger should be moving that process along quicker, supervisors said.
"There is really something seriously wrong for it to take this long," Supervisor Steve Bennett said.
Board Chairwoman Kathy Long was more direct: "Be a man of action and get this job done," she said in comments directed at the governor.
Federal disaster proclamations typically come within two or three days of an urgent situation and rarely take longer than a week, said Laura Hernandez, assistant director of the county's Office of Emergency Services.
"I can tell you based on 20 years of experience that this has taken the longest," Hernandez told supervisors.
Ventura County officials declared a local disaster on Jan. 9 and the governor followed with a state proclamation three days later. Schwarzenegger made the emergency declaration during a visit to the community of La Conchita, where a massive landslide triggered by back-to-back storms killed 10 people and destroyed or severely damaged more than two dozen homes.
During a tour of the devastated area, the governor said he would work closely with federal, state and local officials to provide "every assistance to the people affected by this disaster."
Three days later, he added seven more Southern California counties to the state's disaster list and signed an executive order requesting federal funds to assist with highway repairs and reconstruction. The counties added were Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Barbara.
As of Tuesday, however, Schwarzenegger had not yet formally asked the Bush administration for assistance, a state official said.
Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the state's Office of Emergency Services, said officials are still verifying damage assessments and other information the governor will need before he makes a federal request.
"We honestly are moving as fast as we can so the governor has all the information he needs," Lamoureux said.
He would not predict when Schwarzenegger would receive the state emergency services analysis and recommendation. But he said counties and the cities affected by the record rainfall are eligible for up to 75% reimbursement of costs from the state regardless.
"The governor's emergency declaration does provide assistance for public entities to seek cost recovery," he said. "Rest assured the governor is very aware that these storms have caused significant damage."
Ventura County officials say they have been told that some work cannot begin until FEMA steps in. That is why they are eager for Schwarzenegger to act soon, Bennett said.
"When you've got roads closed and storm channels that need to be cleared, the delays become very frustrating," he said.
Ventura County's roads, farmlands, flood-control channels and homes were among the hardest hit during powerful storms that began Jan. 7.
In a report to the Board of Supervisors, Hernandez estimated damages so far at $169 million. They include $52 million in crop losses, $26 million for debris removal and $22 million for emergency protective measures.