Movers and Shakers On Hand for Earthquake Anniversary

HERE TODAY: The one-year anniversary of the Northridge earthquake has attracted a virtual planeload of federal officials to the San Fernando Valley, including President Clinton himself.

Clinton and his entourage are scheduled to tour quake-damaged Cal State Northridge Tuesday morning. He may make another stop at a location hit by the recent floods, aides said. Last year, the ground was still shaking with aftershocks when Clinton arrived at Burbank Airport two days after the earthquake.

HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, meanwhile, will be a keynote speaker at a three-day earthquake anniversary conference that begins Monday. The event is jointly sponsored by the state and federal governments.

Those who arrived early for the anniversary but just in time for the floods include Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, FEMA Director James Lee Witt, Small Business Administrator Phil Lader and Assistant HUD Secretary Nicolas Retsinas.

Others making the trip will be federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater as well as representatives of the Commerce Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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GONE TOMORROW: Call it an idea backed by good intentions but executed with, well, questionable forethought.

A few months ago city workers wrapped a black safety net around City Hall's tower to keep chucks of concrete from dropping on unsuspecting pedestrians below while the tower undergoes earthquake repairs.

After several city employees complained that the netting resembled a humongous black armband, giving City Hall a funereal look, Councilwoman Laura Chick decided to add some color to the netting. Using her media contacts, she helped persuade two billboard companies to donate huge banners--at a cost of $2,000 each--to cover the netting. Elementary-school children were employed to paint colorful murals on the four huge banners, which were flown to the top of the tower by a helicopter and connected to the netting.

Unfortunately, no one remembered to cut slots in the vinyl banners, so when the winds whipped up they flapped around like loose sails. The paint chipped and the banners tore, forcing city workers to remove the tattered, soggy banners recently. "The winds tore the vinyl up, so for safety reasons they were taken down," said Chick's deputy Eric Rose.

The future of the huge banners doesn't look good. City workers say they may have to be cut into pieces so they can be carried out of the tower.

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PAYING FOR MOTHER NATURE: Whether it's earthquake, flood or wildfire, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) has seen his share of disasters. And he says the Republicans' proposed constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget may be a disastrous piece of legislation.

Concerned that the tight fiscal restraints could hamper future disaster relief efforts, Berman sought this week to carve out an exception when the President declares a federal emergency, as he did this week in parts of California.

The balanced budget amendment itself would alter the Constitution to force Congress to eliminate the federal deficit by 2002 or to produce three-fifths majorities of lawmakers willing to produce an unbalanced budget.

Arguing in vain, Berman told his Republican colleagues that the amendment could tie the government's hands next time a massive disaster requires immediate aid. Invoking the Northridge earthquake and recent flooding to make his case, Berman wanted Congress to be able to sidestep the amendment in case of disaster.

But the Republican majority didn't buy a word of it, drowning Berman's proposal in committee.

Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) was among those who voted no. "Disasters are things that happen all the time around the country," he said. "They are not unusual. We have to provide for those in our budget."

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TAKES THIS JOB AND KEEP IT: Moorhead says the Republican takeover of the House has made his job as challenging as ever and that he is not counting his days to retirement, despite rumors to the contrary.

Roll Call, a Capitol Hill weekly, named Moorhead--at 72, the ninth-oldest member of the House--as the Republican congressman most likely to retire in 1996. Rep. John Myers (R-Ind.), 67, was also listed as a pending retiree. In its predictions published Thursday, the paper cited the fact that both veteran lawmakers were bypassed for committee chairmanships by the new House leadership.

Moorhead, who has seen colleagues come and go during his 22 years in the House, is the third-oldest member of the GOP--behind Tennessee Rep. James Quillen, 79, and Nevada Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, 73. The Democrats have six members older than Moorhead, including the House's oldest member of all, Illinois Rep. Sid Yates, who is 85.

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DISORIENTED DEMOCRATS: The Republican landslide on Capitol Hill has left some veteran Democrats confused about a place they thought they knew cold.

Take Berman, who had a puzzled look on his face at last week's initial meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

With the Republicans now the majority party, tradition dictates that Republican and Democratic lawmakers switch sides at the dais, with the GOP now to the right of the chairman.

Falling into his old ways, Berman walked to the chair he used to occupy, paused momentarily and--suddenly realizing he was now a member of the opposition party--smacked his forehead and uttered, "Oops."

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FRAMED: What a difference a month makes.

Critical a month ago of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's slow pace in helping to rebuild campuses, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education this week presented FEMA Director James Lee Witt with a proclamation recognizing his commitment to the school system and its recovery program.

Handing Witt a large red folder containing the proclamation, board President Mark Slavkin said: "When we're finished (with earthquake repairs), we'll give you an even bigger one."

Added board member Jeff Horton: "We'll even frame it."

This column was written by Times staff writers Marc Lacey in Washington and Hugo Martin and Beth Shuster in Los Angeles.

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