Santa Clarita Should Tap Other Sources : State Funds Might Be Best Solution in Feud With Water District Over Quake Aid

The city of Santa Clarita has received much in the way of aid for damage from the Northridge earthquake. So far, for example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nearly half of the city's requests for the $12 million in disaster assistance needed to repair public facilities.

The only request FEMA has denied Santa Clarita thus far was the $22,500 it asked for to pay for the relocation of its Cowboy Poetry, Music & Film Festival. At the risk of being challenged to a draw at high noon, we must say that the festival request was simply ludicrous.

The federal generosity to date demands less frivolity in aid requests, especially since the monies already on the way include another $4.6-million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department.

But part of our interest here concerns the growing feud between Santa Clarita (and its own $1.1-billion quake-related redevelopment plan) and the Castaic Lake Water Agency, and the legal action the agency has filed against that plan.

Back in February, the Santa Clarita City Council decided to spend that amount over the next 45 years on quake recovery, improved infrastructure, affordable housing and the redevelopment of blighted areas.

Well, the Santa Clarita plan was nothing but a development plan "masquerading as a disaster project," said water agency officials. They added that it would jeopardize the agency's ability to repay bonds for its new water treatment plant. Santa Clarita officials have countered by saying that the agency's financial difficulties were the result of its own mismanagement.

The real victims of the legal action between these two relative behemoths, however, will be the taxpayers who will foot an increasingly large bill if its continues.

Perhaps both sides should join the local clamor for millions of dollars in previously approved but unspent state funds that could help pay for earthquake repairs. As of March, for example, $196 million of a $300-million bond approved by voters in 1990 had not been used. The State Allocation Board also had $74 million that could possibly be used for repairs to elementary and secondary school repairs. Similarly, the College of the Canyons, which lost half of its classroom space in the quake, should be lobbying for some of the $75 million in unspent higher-education bond monies approved as far back as 1988. Obtaining such money might reduce Santa Clarita's quake relief needs . . . and perhaps its legal bills.

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