In South-Central L.A., more of same

January 27, 1994|By Seth Mydans | Seth Mydans,New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- On battered streets where vacant lots display the unhealed damage of the 1992 riots, earthquake survivors in South-Central Los Angeles are struggling again to recover from disaster, even as public sympathy dwells on their wealthier neighbors in the San Fernando Valley.

Far from the epicenter and the limelight in this new catastrophe, these residents of the inner city stand patiently in long lines at disaster relief centers or sit on newly broken porches as they wait for federal loans to be approved.

Though the vast sprawl of the San Fernando Valley, at the earthquake's epicenter, suffered the most serious destruction, the quake caused millions of dollars of damage in the South-Central area.

Along West Adams Street, at businesses in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, at the state's only black-owned bank, the Founders National Bank, and at a half-dozen of the storefront hTC churches that serve the community, shattered glass, fallen walls and broken foundations display the reach of the earthquake.

"Damage has been piled upon damage," said Councilwoman Rita Walters, and the toll continues to rise as building inspectors make their way through the area.

In the last four days, she said, the estimate of damage to her district, which includes about half of the South-Central area, rose to $12 million from $4 million.

Nick Delli Quadri, the senior structural engineer with the city's Department of Building and Safety, said nearly 1,000 structures were damaged in the area, with 800 dwellings declared unsafe.

Michael Gruett, a senior building mechanical inspector for the city, said many buildings in South-Central Los Angeles were constructed before strict building codes went into effect and therefore suffered extensive damage.

At the First A.M.E. Church, the largest church in the area, the Rev. Cecil Murray said the church was sheltering 175 quake survivors and expected to feed 1,000 over the next 10 days.

Though the earthquake hit hardest in the distant northern areas of the city, he said, there was an "emotional epicenter" in the South-Central area.

Some people waiting for disaster aid at a newly opened office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency expressed a familiar grievance that the city's poor black residents were being overlooked.

"We are the neglected, the overlooked," said Courtney Williams, 30, who is unemployed.

"They feel the black community is not as important as the Valley. I am quite sure they are going to be taken care of in the Valley before we are."

Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents part of the area, also said he felt that the outside world had been slow to turn its attention to the South-Central area, but he noted that two of the 16 FEMA disaster-aid centers and two shelters had been opened there.

Although he has complained that promised relief for the riots has been slow to arrive, he argued that the two disasters could not fairly be compared.

"There is a decidedly different set of dynamics that operate here," he said.

"The matter of racial justice or injustice and the matter of the criminal justice system is not at stake here. What we are dealing with now is God's justice."

The Clinton administration has moved quickly to address the damage of the earthquake, setting up relief centers and tent cities, skipping bureaucratic steps in issuing 18-month rental vouchers for low-income housing and speeding the arrival of the first federal funds and asking Congress for $6.6 billion more in disaster relief.

The White House aid proposal would ask California to match just 10 percent of the total contribution, rather than the 25 percent that is usually required, in a sign of the administration's sensitivity to the state's economic difficulties and its political importance.

By contrast, the Bush administration moved more slowly with relief assistance after the riots in April and May of 1992. Half a year after offering an "action agenda" that won bipartisan support, President George Bush vetoed a bill that included major elements of his relief package. These were a plan for enterprise zones to attract new business to the area and $38 million in tax credits to encourage low-income housing.

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