City Urges Business to See Quake Repair as Opportunity : Recovery: Riordan leads conference aimed at drawing investment from private sector, focusing on low-interest building loan program.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has run major corporations, headed his own foundation and is now chief executive of the second-largest city in the nation. But on Thursday he was a pitchman.

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Speaking to about 200 contractors, bankers, developers and others, Riordan sought to get the private sector to become more involved in repairing earthquake-damaged properties, many of which remain vacant, crumbling and without financial resources.

"Let's remind ourselves and others of the magic that is Los Angeles," he told the crowd at the Biltmore Hotel, which included investors in well-pressed suits and ties and contractors in worn work boots and jeans.

He made his comments at a conference that was co-sponsored by the city, the state and the building industry and designed to hasten the recovery by selling developers, banks and others on the opportunities in investing in quake-damaged properties.

The quake seriously damaged more than 65,000 homes, apartments and condominiums in the city of Los Angeles, leaving about 19,000 housing units vacant.

But Riordan was also pushing a commodity that is normally in high demand: money. He urged contractors and developers to take advantage of the $310 million in zero- and low-interest repair loans that the city is offering.

"Today's conference is about rebuilding and how City Hall can help you," he said, noting that about 15% of the housing units in the vacant, quake-damaged "ghost towns" throughout the city still have no funding for repairs and only half the units are undergoing repairs.

But some in the audience were reluctant to commit the time and money to such buildings, saying they had only come to the conference to gather information on the city's incentives.

Chris Perhach, a contractor based in Diamond Bar, said he attended because he wanted to learn about the loan programs so he can pitch them to prospective clients he hopes will invest in quake-damaged properties and hire him to do the repairs.

"Ceilings have fallen, walls have moved, so it's hard for a guy who wants to keep a business going," he said.

Robert Montey, who works at a Tarzana lumberyard, said he went to the conference to make contacts with contractors who will need lumber supplies when they begin repair work.

"There is a lot of business this year," he said.

Later in the conference, attendees were shown a 10-minute video produced by city officials to explain the various loan packages offered by the city. The video also showed city housing officials and building inspectors promising to cooperate with investors.

"We've designed four funding programs to work with developers--programs that can be put in place quickly," Housing Director Gary Squier says in the video. "We look forward to working with you."

The city also provided a list of hundreds of severely damaged buildings whose owners had yet to begin repairs.

By Tuesday--the quake's first anniversary--city housing officials expect to loan landlords and investors up to $93 million of the $310 million provided by the federal government.

Although they continue to push more landlords and investors to take advantage of the city's funding, housing officials also expect to fall up to $240 million short of funding repairs for all qualified applicants.

Housing and Urban Development Undersecretary Nic Retsinas, who also spoke at the conference, said HUD could not promise additional funding for the program. But he vowed to provide the city with any surplus funding that becomes available.

"The other thing that we would like to do is look for any ways that we can reduce the existing restrictions so the money can be stretched further," he said.

After the conference, Riordan, Retsinas and City Councilman Hal Bernson toured one of the city's 17 ghost towns created by the 6.7-magnitude temblor in order to gauge progress in such devastated areas.

Riordan strolled for almost an hour through the 15800 block of Kingsbury Street in Granada Hills, the site of several vacant, quake-ravaged apartment buildings under reconstruction.

"It's one thing to come to a ribbon-cutting and another thing to come to the process," Retsinas said.

The trio applauded the partnership of the Small Business Administration, the city of Los Angeles and HUD in reviving the ghost towns.

"Today we're seeing (ghost towns) rise up from the ashes," Riordan said.

Times staff writer Errol A. Cockfield Jr. contributed to this story.

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