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Los Angeles Times Special Quake Report: One Year Later : Still Shaken / Voices : From the Epicenter to D.C.: Reflections on the Devastation : MAYOR RIORDAN

Like most Los Angeles residents, Mayor Richard Riordan was shaken out of bed. Damage to his Brentwood home was minimal. He didn’t even lose a book from his 40,000-volume library. But unlike anyone else, Riordan awoke to the tremendous responsibility of leading the city through its most expensive and widespread disaster.

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It sort of woke me up that Monday morning. The first thing I said was: “What is a mayor supposed to do?” I decided the first thing I have to do is communicate. My phone wasn’t working so I slipped on some sweat pants and a sweat shirt and went out to the car and tried the cellular phone. But that didn’t work. I decided I needed to communicate as soon as I could so I went to the nearest police station. I went in there and there were only two people in the police station at the time. I asked them: “Have you called people in?” The guy said: “Well, they will be in in a couple of hours anyway, so we didn’t think it was necessary.” I thought instead of micro-managing, I said: “Dick, just keep quiet.” I got in my car and took off.

I have to say I have compassion for the victims killed or injured in the disaster and people who lost their homes and businesses. But I think there is a lot to be proud of. I think the earthquake brought people of Los Angeles together like nothing else could have. During the campaign, I was very critical of the city’s bureaucracy. But the city employees were just incredible. They made quick decisions. They followed through. They came in early. They left late.

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Most of the cooperation between federal and state agencies came together incredibly smooth. There was never a disagreement except with the freeways. There was some push and shove on the first day, but we worked it out right away. It was the morning after the quake and we had a big meeting with all the transportation people of the state. (The disagreement) started when I started to get bureaucratic answers to my questions. I said: “Do you have architects and engineers? They should have been on the ground yesterday to get repairs going.” And they said: “Well, we have a meeting planned.” And I said: “When is that meeting?” They said: “Well, we’ll check and see.” After half an hour of this, I called the secretary of transportation for the state and the head of highways for the federal government into a closet and read them the riot act. That broke the dam.


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