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Anaheim Gets $5 Million in Quake Relief : Disaster aid: Officials were severely criticized when they applied last year for the federal funds, which will defray the cash-strapped city’s repair bill for scoreboard damages at Big A.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After nearly a month of miserable financial news caused by the county’s bankruptcy, officials here finally have something to celebrate: a $5-million check.

The funds from the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) will partially reimburse the city for the $10 million it spent repairing the damage to Anaheim Stadium from last year’s Northridge earthquake, which toppled the stadium’s 17-ton scoreboard.

When the earthquake hit, on Jan. 17, the city was already facing an $8-million budget deficit. And the county bankruptcy has further compounded the city’s financial problems. Anaheim has $169 million tied up in the county’s frozen investment pool, which has lost more than $2 billion.

In a worst-case scenario, the city could lose as much as $45 million of that money, officials said.

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With things looking bleak, city officials “accelerated our efforts” to get federal relief funds for the earthquake disaster, City Manager James D. Ruth said Tuesday.

“This money will assist us in our cash flow and operating needs as we continue to work through our fiscal situation,” Ruth said.

City officials said the check was expected to arrive by today.

When city officials applied for disaster aid a year ago, they were heavily criticized by some residents and politicians who felt that money to fix a scoreboard both stretched the purpose of disaster relief and took funds away from worthier causes.

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Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said Tuesday that such criticism was unfair.

“Anaheim Stadium is an important public and economic asset for Anaheim and Orange County,” Daly said. “I think it’s reasonable to seek reimbursement for damage resulting from a natural disaster. The stadium employs a lot of people and is an important activity center.”

Anaheim Stadium Manager Greg Smith said: “We had gone above and beyond most municipalities by carrying earthquake insurance, and that isn’t cheap. We contacted the Los Angeles Coliseum and (San Francisco’s) Candlestick Park, and they didn’t have insurance. They told us they relied on money from FEMA when they had earthquake damage.”

FEMA spokesman Russ Edmonston said Tuesday that Anaheim legitimately met the qualifications for federal assistance.

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“We don’t fund ineligible projects,” Edmonston said. “We went out and inspected and, based on our criteria, the stadium was eligible for funds.”

Anaheim Stadium was the only structure in Orange County significantly damaged by the pre-dawn earthquake that rocked Southern California.

When the scoreboard fell during the quake, it put out of commission about 1,000 seats in the stadium’s upper left-field deck. Hundreds of people could have been killed if a stadium event had been taking place during the earthquake.

Gov. Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency in Orange County last Jan. 25, paving the way for the city to recover millions of dollars in state and federal relief.

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In all, Anaheim has received $5,118,302 in federal funds. More than $500,000 in state aid has also been set aside for the city, FEMA officials said. The remainder of the $10,118,302 it cost to repair the stadium damage is expected to be paid by the city’s stadium insurance.

City Atty. Jack L. White said the city has so far received more than $3 million in insurance money and is still considering legal action against the installers of the old scoreboard and perhaps other parties.

After the earthquake, a temporary scoreboard was used during sporting events until the Aug. 5, 1994, unveiling of a new $3.6-million Sony Jumbotron board. The new scoreboard is more technologically advanced than its predecessor.

Not only are its images brighter, but the new scoreboard is more resistant to earthquakes. The new Jumbotron’s weight is equally distributed among five columns instead of being supported by a single column, as the old scoreboard was.

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The federal funds come at a good time for Smith, who has had to manage a stadium hit hard by the major-league baseball strike.

“A little good news is welcome,” Smith said. “Maybe we’re going to have good news for 1995; 1994 was such a lousy year. I wish we could have skipped it.”


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