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Official Says CSUN’s Recovery Threatened : Quake aid: Campus president tells trustees that reduced funding and bureaucratic delays may stall rebuilding plans.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In her first-ever public criticism of federal earthquake aid, Cal State Northridge President Blenda Wilson charged Tuesday that a dwindling flow of dollars and mounting bureaucratic delays are threatening to stall the hard-hit campus’ recovery plans.

Joining a growing chorus of complaints that the original federal resolve to assist the region’s recovery is waning 18 months after the quake, Wilson told a meeting of the California State University system’s trustees that CSUN has hit a “phenomenon of slowdown and stall” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We and our neighboring Valley institutions are experiencing a dramatic slowdown in the writing and approval of damage survey reports” by FEMA, Wilson told the trustees.

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When later asked what she thought is causing the alleged slowdown, Wilson said, “I don’t know. I truly don’t know.”

FEMA spokeswoman Vallee Bunting said the agency is “disappointed to hear President Wilson’s remarks” but remains “committed to restoring the campus to its full capacity.” Top local FEMA officials will quickly offer to meet with Wilson to “resolve any differences,” Bunting said.

Wilson’s remarks clearly carried a political sting for FEMA officials and the Clinton Administration, which had made CSUN and its recovery a showpiece for the agency’s supposed new spirit of responsiveness. President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have both visited CSUN since the earthquake. The President’s political advisers regard California’s big chunk of electoral college votes as crucial in the next presidential election.

In her report, Wilson said CSUN has received approvals for $157 million in recovery aid from FEMA--less than half the university’s estimated $350 million in damage, the costliest natural disaster ever for a U. S. university.

But after getting FEMA approvals for more than $136 million in the spring and summer following the Jan. 17, 1994, earthquake, FEMA’s approval of funds for the campus dwindled to only about $10.4 million during fall, 1994, and this spring, Wilson told the trustees.

Likewise, Wilson said the time federal officials are taking to process damage survey reports--the paperwork that leads to the campus getting recovery funds--has gone from an average of 16 days last spring to 60 in the summer, then to 202 last fall and 124 days this spring.

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Bunting said she could not respond to the specifics of Wilson’s charges. But some delays are due to the school’s tardiness in supplying information to FEMA, she said, adding, “We’re concerned President Wilson may not be getting accurate information.”

Until now, Wilson said the delays in funding have not delayed progress on any specific campus earthquake recovery projects. In fact, Wilson said the campus thus far has not spent all of the money it has received. But she said that unless FEMA begins reacting quicker, repair projects will have to be delayed.

The campus is ready to proceed with more than $20 million in earthquake repairs to three major buildings--Engineering, Richfield Hall and Sierra Tower--that campus officials hope to reopen next spring. But Wilson said FEMA has not yet authorized the repairs, threatening that schedule.

She added that the campus also has 19 or 20 funding requests under consideration by FEMA as part of the campus plan to achieve full recovery by 1998. But she said of those, “They may as well be in a deep black hole in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

Wilson conceded that she has yet to directly contact any senior FEMA officials to convey her complaints. Instead, she said campus and local officials should join with state officials to jointly press their case with FEMA.

* FEDERAL POOL: FEMA weighs pleas for assistance. A1

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