$264 Million OKd for Quake Repair
New earthquake repair and retrofit grants of $126 million for Los Angeles City Hall and $138 million for four private hospitals were announced Wednesday by the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Two of the hospitals are in the San Fernando Valley: Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center and Granada Hills Community Hospital.
The latest grants bring to $971 million the federal money committed to hospitals after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and bring total federal Northridge quake relief in Southern California to more than $13 billion.
The City Hall grant, nearly everything the city had requested, will allow the early resumption of a major seismic rehabilitation project at the building, where work was largely suspended last summer because of soaring costs.
Because a reported $150 million in municipal seismic retrofit bonds are also available, this could mean a fancier project than envisioned, although city officials said precisely what will be done still must be decided.
The new grants were announced in a conference call that included White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, FEMA Director James Lee Witt, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Antonovich and other officials.
In a reference to Clinton administration generosity in an election year, Los Angeles City Council President John Ferraro, a Democrat, said:
“Thank God, November has not yet arrived.”
Riordan, a Republican, was just as enthusiastic.
“Every Angeleno thanks James Lee Witt and the Clinton administration for what they have done for Los Angeles since the Northridge earthquake,” the mayor said.
A FEMA statement quoted Clinton as commenting:
“Los Angeles City Hall is not simply the offices of the mayor and City Council, but a nostalgic icon of the city, rich in history and a symbol of one of America’s most important cities. I’m pleased that the federal government can help in the effort to restore this beautiful building.”
Despite the enthusiasm expressed all around, negotiations and damage assessments have been going on for months amid occasional political sniping.
Some city and county officials suggested last year that FEMA was trying to reduce its earlier commitments to help in the aftermath of the quake, and FEMA spokesmen had responded that local officials were not above using the quake to fulfill a wish list of projects.
The new hospital grants announced Wednesday include $102 million for the Kaiser Foundation hospitals in Panorama City and West Los Angeles, $10.5 million for Granada Hills Community Hospital and $25.5 million for Queen of Angels-Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center.
A Kaiser spokesman said $52.4 million of its grant would go for seismic upgrades and repairs at the foundation’s West Los Angeles facility and $49.7 million at the Panorama City facility.
The 325-bed Panorama City hospital suffered relatively minor damage during the earthquake, according to Kaiser spokesman Jim Anderson.
“There were surface cracks, some water pipe damage and significant damage to the elevator machine room on top of the building,” he said. “There was no major structural failure.”
The funds will be used to strengthen the building against another big temblor.
The 201-bed Granada Hills hospital will use the money to build a 68,000-square-foot facility to replace two buildings, constructed in the early 1960s, which were cracked by the quake, said hospital administrator Neil McGolif.
“It’s cheaper to do that than upgrade,” McGolif said.
The FEMA funds will be enough to pay for the structure itself, McGolif said, but the nonprofit hospital will have to raise a still-uncalculated amount of money to equip the facility.
The two older structures will remain, to be used for purposes other than housing patients. “We have plenty of land on the site, so that is not a problem,” McGolif said.
Last March, FEMA made similar grants totaling $294.4 million to UCLA Medical Center, $133.5 million to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, $30.9 million to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Los Angeles and $373.8 million to County-USC Medical Center.
Under rules of disaster relief, the state of California is obligated to add grants totaling 10% to the FEMA sums.
The cost of the Los Angeles City Hall retrofit, which was originally pegged at $92.3 million, later was estimated at $153 million, then $242 million and finally $300 million.
Riordan and City Controller Rick Tuttle, concerned that this was more than the city could afford, appointed a blue-ribbon panel of experts late last year to explore ways to lower the costs.
This panel, under the chairmanship of real estate developer Stuart Ketchum, recommended Jan. 31 that $165 million be spent on a scaled-down project.
But the city bureaucracy and several City Council members objected that the Ketchum plan was penny-wise and pound-foolish, leaving undone certain modernizations that they felt ought to be done during the three years that work was being done in a vacant City Hall.
The controversy was put on hold in March while the city waited to see what FEMA would agree to give.
But Ferraro quickly made the point Wednesday that doing half a job at City Hall “would make about as much sense as doing open heart surgery and not taking care of all the problems encountered.”
Ketchum, on the other hand, said: “Those charged with the amount of work to be done should now carefully examine what is the most prudent expenditure of taxpayers’ funds and hopefully not just spend all of the money that might be available.”
He said his panel is willing to assist in the decision.
Ferraro said he would soon call the council’s ad hoc committee on the retrofit into session to consider what to do.
Noelia Rodriguez, Riordan’s press secretary, was noncommittal on what Riordan’s position would be.
But with both the seismic retrofit bonds, approved in a 1990 election, and the FEMA grant available, there may be a tendency to spend more than the $165 million.
“We’re all ecstatic,” said Frank Cardenas, vice president of the city’s board of public works. “This building is the single greatest symbol of democracy that the people of this city have.”
The public works board, while controlled by Riordan appointees, has often sided quietly with City Engineer Robert Horii and others in the bureaucracy who have wanted a bigger rather than smaller project.
Times staff writer David Colker contributed to this story.