Standing in front of the still red-tagged Northridge Middle School auditorium, state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) announced plans Monday to introduce new legislation aimed at protecting students, hospital patients and homeowners in a future disaster.
Hayden, speaking on the eve of today's anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, said Californians should blame "blind denial and officials" for the problems and hazards still facing them.
"There are too many people who still blame Mother Nature for the earthquake. . . . Blame instead official neglect, negligence . . . and a blind denial that we are in an earthquake zone and an earthquake era," Hayden said.
"Natural disasters are not visitors to our state--we are visitors. Natural disasters live here."
Among the major components in the three bills:
* Schools would be required to train employees in disaster preparedness and purchase emergency supplies in addition to holding routine earthquake drills,
* All hospitals built prior to 1973--when new codes were established--would be required to upgrade their buildings and the state would be required to quickly retrofit any steel-framed hospitals, even those that were built after 1973 but were damaged in last year's earthquake,
* The state would be required to create a basic, stand-alone earthquake insurance policy until the enactment of a federal disaster protection act or the stabilization of the homeowners' insurance market.
While Hayden said the bills address three of the "dire needs" facing the state, he acknowledged that he will have a tough time getting them through the state Legislature and off the governor's desk. At his morning news conference, Hayden was flanked by parents and community activists who urged the Legislature to approve the bills.
"The pressure to maintain the status quo in difficult budgetary times takes precedence over budgeting for emergencies of tomorrow," Hayden said. "I think the problem is cultural and in our nature, and it's called denial."
The schools legislation probably would cost the state about $60 million over 10 years for earthquake supplies, a figure Hayden called a modest amount totaling $1 per student in California over 10 years.
Burbank Emergency Services Coordinator Rich Baenen, who attended the event, said training school employees and maintaining emergency supplies should be a statewide priority. Burbank began a program several years ago to train all school officials and buy cargo containers with supplies for all 21 campuses in the district.
"We can't just look back a year ago and say, 'Kids weren't killed, so we must be doing OK,' " Baenen said. "It's going to take money and priority setting."
Several parents who attended Monday's event said schools desperately need training and supplies. "Now there's a great disparity between none and some," said Stephanie Carter, a San Fernando Valley parent who served on an education task force of a statewide committee formed after last January's 6.7 temblor.
Hayden said about 23 hospitals in the Los Angeles area would need to be retrofitted under his legislation. He said patients or their families would be notified at the time of admission whether the facilities meet seismic-safety standards.
By requiring insurance companies to sell emergency earthquake insurance, Hayden said homeowners would be better protected from potential property losses as well as demolition costs. "Currently, we see insurance companies and some officials in retreat" from covering homeowners, Hayden said. "This would be a minimum policy costing about $200 a month."