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A Year Later, Life Still Unsteady for Quake Victims : Recovery: Residents and merchants remain dispirited by frustrating loan policies and an inability to complete repairs caused by the 6.7 temblor.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For Paula Walker, Jan. 17, 1994, was a shake-up that proved to be the wake-up call of a lifetime.

But it wasn’t the fact that the devastating earthquake that day forced the 58-year-old Walker, a West Adams resident, out of her La Brea Avenue home of 27 years and into a cramped Leimert Park apartment, where she is awaiting a city loan to be approved.

It isn’t even the endless paper trail that attended her many applications for disaster assistance to federal, state and local agencies.

For Walker, the earthquake fallout was something much worse. “I feel like I lost my family,” she said with a sigh, because arrangements to stay with relatives didn’t work out.

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For Walker and many other central Los Angeles residents, the personal and financial aftershocks of the Northridge quake rumble on.

Although many people have moved on after repairing cracked walls and psyches, others are still grappling with these and worse problems brought on by the magnitude-6.7 temblor connected to 57 deaths, none reported in central Los Angeles.

On the Eastside, Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, which includes 21 structures, sustained $1 billion in damage. Several buildings in the central area west of State Street had to be demolished, and, weather permitting, more damaged buildings will be dismantled over the next two to three weeks, said hospital spokesman Harvey Kern.

Out of the media spotlight that focused on damage in the San Fernando Valley, central Los Angeles residents say they’re still struggling to get their share of disaster-assistance funds while trying to put their lives back together.

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“It’s been a rough year,” said Walker, who hopes to be able to move back home within six months. “I found out I’m not as flexible as I thought I was. I’ve been doing a lot of crying and roaming around.”

That comes as no surprise to Karen Bass, director of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment. The coalition’s independent post-quake survey of 1,751 residents in the 8th, 9th and 10th Los Angeles City Council districts showed significant levels of emotional impact, personal damage and other effects wrought by the earthquake.

In a follow-up phone survey conducted last week of 200 residents who reported extensive damage to their homes, most said they were still contending with financial and other worries, compounded by the recent rains.

“South-Central got an awful lot of damage, but little money,” said Bass, an associate professor of psychology at Loyola Marymount University. "(Small Business Administration) applications stalled, (Federal Emergency Management Agency) money was tied up. There are city funds for people who qualify, but time ran out for a lot of them.”

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Other statistics show that central Los Angeles, particularly the Crenshaw and West Adams areas, were among the hardest hit by the earthquake. The city Building and Safety Department estimates that 12% of the total earthquake-damaged residential units were in south Los Angeles, accounting for about $75 million in damage. Citywide residential damage was estimated at $974 million, according to the Building and Safety Department.

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The Crenshaw Earthquake Service Center on Jefferson Boulevard, which will close Jan. 20, has been one of the busiest of the 10 disaster assistance centers set up countywide.

“We’re still getting new applicants,” said center spokeswoman Lorraine Harrell, surveying a half-filled waiting room at the facility last week. “We’re still getting new applicants. A lot of people, especially seniors, are just learning about the services we have here.”

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Along Bronson Avenue, and scattered about the central Los Angeles landscape, are vivid scars left by the quake: crumbled chimneys, cracked facades and plaster fallen off in chunks, rubble heaped in the front yards of buildings left half-standing or unoccupied, empty lots where buildings once stood.

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The central Los Angeles area claims two “ghost towns"--areas identified by the Housing Department in which many residential buildings are uninhabitable and abandoned. One is on the westernmost end of the West Adams district, bounded by Adams and Rimpau Boulevard, Hickory Street and Palm Grove Avenue. The other is a block of Corning Avenue just north of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway near the point where it collapsed and was rebuilt.

The city’s primary concern has been getting the vacant buildings occupied, said Samuel Luna, director of the Neighborhood Recovery Program, which oversees the city’s 17 ghost towns, most of which are in the Valley. Such buildings quickly become magnets for vandals, graffiti taggers, thieves and other criminals.

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Although Luna and his team have made progress--86% of all vacant buildings in the ghost towns have been funded for rehabilitation--the percentage of funded buildings in the West Adams and Corning neighborhoods is less than half. Just 17 of the 38 vacant buildings in West Adams, and four of 13 on Corning have received funding.

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One major problem, Luna said, is that many apartment owners in central Los Angeles simply walked away from the problem, unwilling to invest in properties that had become losing propositions in a sour economy.

If an owner can’t be persuaded to stay, he said, the building is taken over by a bank and more than likely stays vacant. The problem in a neighborhood such as West Adams, which consists primarily of single-family homes, is that older homeowners living on fixed incomes don’t qualify for Small Business Administration loans.

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Ruby Jackson says she has all but given up on trying to fund repairs for her house. With estimated damage of $52,000, Jackson and her husband could only get a $3,500 FEMA grant, which was used to stabilize the foundation.

Though she is applying for more money, Jackson said she is tired of waging a losing battle.

“I’m maxed out,” said the 71-year-old Jackson, who, like her husband, is semi-disabled. “I’ve had to use my (credit card) to pay for a lot of repairs. I look at (the damage) every day and go on and try and forget about it. They forgot all about us down here in South-Central.”

A FEMA spokesman could not be reached for comment.

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Robert Moore, a Crenshaw business owner, echoed the sentiment. Moore and many other merchants in the Santa Barbara Plaza shopping center are still waiting to hear if they qualify for SBA emergency loans.

“It’s just like the riots,” said Moore, owner of Moore’s Hair Design and president of the plaza’s 250-member merchants association. “We either make too much or too little to get loans. A lot of us lost inventory, customers, employees because we had to close after the quake. . . . We had to pay for repairs out of pocket. . . . We’re tired, beat up.”

But on the south border of the plaza, Founders National Bank sported a new sign and a spiffed-up interior--$500,000 worth of improvements that President Carlton Jenkins is happy to see but wasn’t expecting to make.

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The building, which was closed for nearly a year, was transformed from a branch to a corporate headquarters. “We were totally uninsured, so all of this came out of our pocket,” said Jenkins, who had to move operations around the corner to the Stocker Street branch. “It meant that we weren’t able to enact a lot of customer-service things we wanted to enact last year. . . . But we did open a new branch in University Village (near USC). We’re still a small, strong black-owned bank. We did the best we could.”


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