[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1994, Book I)]
[January 19, 1994]
[Pages 102-106]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 102]]

Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on the Los Angeles Earthquake in 
Burbank, California
January 19, 1994

    The President. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, Mayor.
    Ladies and gentlemen, first let me say that I always learn something 
when I come to southern California. Very often in the last 2 years I 
have come here when things were difficult for people, and I always walk 
away utterly astonished.
    I would like to say two things by way of introduction. First, on 
behalf of all the people on our Federal team, we want to thank the mayor 
and the members of the city council and city government, the Governor 
and the State legislators, Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein, the Members 
of the United States Congress, the members of the county government, 
people I have already met with here today. The sense of teamwork here 
has been truly extraordinary. And I appreciate all of you doing that so 
    When I became President, one of the things I most wanted to do was 
to give the American people a high level of confidence that their 
Government at least would work in basic ways and that they could trust 
us at least to do the basic human things right without regard to party, 
philosophy, whatever fights we were having over economic policy or 
anything else in the world, that when the chips were down, the basic 
things that people were entitled to have that done by their National 
Government, they would feel that. And I suppose there's no more 
important area than in an emergency for people to have that kind of 
    The second thing I want to say is, I never cease to be amazed by the 
energy and the optimism, the courage and the constant good humor of so 
many millions of people in this State against all odds. And I walked the 
crowds today, through these crowds. I saw public workers that haven't 
slept more than 2 or 3 hours in 3 days, working on the roads, the water 
lines, the gas lines. We saw countless numbers of people who had lost 
their homes, who didn't know when they were going to be able to go back 
to work. We saw children asking us to help get their schools fixed so 
they could go back to school. I met a man who had saved three homes in 
his neighborhood, along with a team of firemen. I met a woman who had 
lost her home--this is unbelievable--lost her home, who said to me, 
``You know, I lost my home, and I'm really grateful you folks are coming 
here to help, but when you go to that meeting this afternoon, I hope 
you'll just ask everybody to do the right thing.'' She said, ``Ask 
people not to overcharge us for water. But ask all the people who are 
hurt not to take advantage of FEMA.'' She said, ``You know, somebody in 
the rest of this country might get in trouble later this year. And I 
lost my home, but we're going to do some of this ourselves. And I heard 
some people who were asking for reimbursement for things that were 
already broken in their homes.'' And she said, ``We just all ought to do 
the right thing, and we'll come out okay.'' And so I say to all of you 
who are elected, you've got a lot to be proud of just in the people that 
you represent.
    The mayor has already mentioned all the people in the Federal team 
who came out here, but I would like to thank them. FEMA Director James 
Lee Witt and Secretary Cisneros, Secretary Pena, the Federal Highway 
Administrator Rodney Slater, the Deputy Secretary of Commerce David 
Barram, John Emerson, from my staff, came out here early. All told, 
we've had about 1,500 Federal personnel in California, Washington, and 
at the teleregistration center in Denton, Texas, working on this. And as 
I said, it's really been a joy to work with the local and the State 
officials. I think we're all about to get the hang of working with each 
other, but we hope we don't have another chance to do it very soon.
    As you know, I was asked to declare a disaster declaration on the 
day that the earthquake occurred, and I did that. And we'll be talking 
later in this meeting about the whole range of Federal services that are 
available and about the disaster assistance centers that FEMA will set 
up and how people can access them. I ask all of you who are Federal 
officials and State officials and county officials and local officials 
to help us with this.
    I looked at those people today, and a lot of those folks are not 
used to fooling with the Government for anything. They're not used to

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asking for help, they're not--they can't be charged with the knowledge 
of what is in a FEMA program or in an SBA program or some other agency 
program. We're going to do our very best to make it easy and accessible 
for them. And they'll talk more about that in a minute. But you can help 
us a lot, Mayor, all of you can help us a lot by simply telling us if 
it's reaching people. And when this is all over, Leon Panetta and I have 
to go back to Washington and figure out how to pay for it--[laughter]--
and that's our job. But it won't work unless it actually works.
    When I was walking up and down those lines today looking at those 
folks, I thought most of these people are just good hard-working people 
trying to do the right thing. And it never occurred to them that they 
would ever have to figure out how to work their way through a maze of 
any sort of Federal program, whatever. So one of the things that all of 
you can do to help us is to be good intermediaries, and if it's not 
working to let us know. If we need to be some place we're not, let us 
know. And that's, I think, very, very important.
    The other point I want to make is that we'll be talking a lot about 
emergency aid today, but we recognize that it's going to take a good 
while to finish this work. When I was out at the place where the highway 
broke down, one of many, I asked how long it would take to fix it. And 
the highway engineer said, ``Oh, probably about a year.'' And I said, 
``Well, what do you have to do to fix it in less time?'' It's not just a 
question of money, it's also a question of organization. We'll talk more 
about that today.
    I want to make three specific announcements today, but to make this 
point: This is a national problem, and we have a national responsibility 
and we will be in it for the long run. This is not something where all 
of us from the Federal Government just showed up while this is an issue 
in the headlines, gripping the hearts and emotions of all your 
countrymen and women who feel for you all the way to the tip of northern 
Maine and the tip of southern Florida. This is something we intend to 
stay with until the job is over.
    And in that connection, I have been authorized to say that today the 
Small Business Administration will be releasing enough money to support 
about $240 million in new low-interest loans to people who qualify for 
them. We will release $45 million in new funds from the Department of 
Transportation to support the beginning of all the cleanup and the 
beginning of the repair movement. You know there's a lot of, 
unfortunately, a lot of destruction now that has to be done on those 
roads before the construction can start. So that will accelerate that 
    And the third thing I want to say is that as soon as we get good 
cost estimates, and the Governor and the mayor have given us some today, 
but as soon as we get good cost estimates on what the losses are and 
what kinds of things fall within the responsibility of the Federal 
Government, we will then see how much money we now have already 
appropriated for disasters. And then, along with your congressional 
delegation, I expect to ask the Congress for an emergency supplemental 
appropriation for California as soon as the Congress returns on January 
25th. And I believe the Congress will do the right thing. And I want to 
tell you that this is something I think the California delegation will 
be absolutely united on. And we've already had the conversations with 
them. I'm grateful that so many members of the delegation are here 
    Let me just say one final thing. I have been asked also by several 
people, by the mayor, the Governor, the Senators among others today, 
about the matching requirement. Generally, in any emergency there's a 
25-percent match requirement which the Federal Government can waive--can 
be waived so that the match requirement goes down to 10 percent for 
State and local contribution to disaster assistance. I wish I could just 
come here today and tell you that I could waive that. We waived it in 
the Midwest flood, when we had the floods earlier this year. We had a 
500-year flood, the worst flood that we hope it only comes along every 
500 years. I think you have a very strong case for waiver, but before we 
can approve it, under the law we have to have a realistic assessment of 
what the costs are, because the criteria established by Congress for 
waiver is that the burdens on the State and local resources will be too 
great to reasonably bear, given the other problems. Now, if you look at 
the economic problems that California and southern California have had 
alone in the last 4 years, I don't think it will be too difficult for 
you to make that case. But it is not legally possible for me to say 
until I see the numbers and the arguments. So you have to make the case; 
we will work with you to help you make that case. But that's a commit-

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ment I can't make today until we see the evidence under the law.
    We will proceed with the emergency supplemental. And I'd like to 
spend the rest of the meeting just sort of listening to what's going on, 
what the problems are, because when I leave here today, I want to have a 
clear sense that we have our act together and that when we go back to 
Washington we'll be able to do our part there while you're doing your 
part here.
    And the last point I want to make, again, is that we have no 
intention, none, of letting this be a short-term thing. We will stay 
with you until this job is finished. Thank you very much.

[At this point, Gov. Pete Wilson, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Senator 
Barbara Boxer thanked the administration and discussed efforts to assist 
victims and repair damage. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan outlined 
areas of concern, and Dick Andrews, director of the office of State 
emergency services, discussed the response efforts of Federal, State, 
and local governments. James Lee Witt, Director of FEMA, explained how 
disaster assistance centers provide temporary housing and financial 
assistance to victims. Mayor Riordan then invited the President to 

    The President. Well, I would like to ask just--I think the audience 
would like to know, and I know Dick's going to announce later where they 
are, because the local folks have decided where the disaster assistance 
centers should be sited, but how many will there be? And we talked 
earlier about whether there will be a mobile center, too, to go to the 
people who may have lost their cars, for example, in the earthquake. And 
how long will it take people to get checks for their personal needs, 
those that lost all sources of income and have to have some money just 
to live, how long will it take before those checks will actually be in 
their hands after they apply?

[Mr. Andrews discussed the opening of additional disaster assistance 
centers to handle the large volume of applicants, as well as mobile 
centers that would travel around the area to assist in the application 
process. Director Witt stated that applicants would receive assistance 
checks more quickly than in previous years, due to improvements in the 

    The President. Maybe I should wait on this, but I don't know when 
the appropriate time is. When I was working the crowds today, a lot of 
children asked me about the schools. Apparently there are a whole lot of 
schools that are affected, and the kids are out of school. How long will 
it take to get any assistance to them, and how does that work?

[Sidney Thompson, superintendent of schools, Los Angeles Unified School 
District, discussed conditions in southern California schools and 
efforts to reopen them. Shirley Mattingly, head of emergency services 
for Los Angeles, stated that Federal, State, and local governments will 
continue to work together. Dan Waters, head of the department of water 
and power, discussed efforts to restore water and power. Los Angeles 
County Supervisor Mike Antonovich detailed the damage in the Santa Clara 
Valley, and Representative Elton Gallegly addressed the damage in 
Ventura County and requested that the area be declared a disaster. 
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros discussed 
solutions for providing temporary and permanent housing to victims. 
Representative Esteban Edward Torres asked about fact sheets in 
languages other than English. Mayor Judy Abdo of Santa Monica expressed 
concern that her heavily damaged city would not receive adequate 
funding, and Secretary Cisneros assured her that funds would be 
distributed based on the extent of damage.]

    The President. I just want to echo that, if I might. I just asked 
Mr. Panetta to come down here to talk about it. Right now, all we can do 
is put out this emergency relief and programs that already exist; that 
is, until Congress acts, that's all we can do. So you'll get something 
now, and if it turns out to be inadequate, then when we put the 
supplemental appropriation together, it will be based on a showing of 
need by community. It will be irrespective of size or allocation or 
anything else. So when that program goes through, all you have to do is 
make sure that we got the right evidence, and then we'll be able to 
proceed on that basis.

[Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg of Hollywood discussed the lack of storage 
facilities and housing in her district. Jackie Tatum, president, 
recreation and parks commission of Los Angeles, and Gary Squires, 
general manager, Los Angeles housing department, offered their 
cooperation in

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providing temporary and permanent housing to victims. Yvonne Burke, head 
of the county board of supervisors, commented on mutual aid and the 
coordinated efforts of various government agencies. Vicki Howard, chair 
of the Ventura County board of supervisors, requested two disaster 
assistance centers in her county. OMB Director Leon Panetta assured 
participants that the Government has sufficient funds to provide 
immediate assistance. Chief of Police Willie Williams and Sheriff 
Sherman Block addressed public safety concerns. Kathleen Brown, State 
treasurer, discussed the damage to public buildings and offered her 
cooperation in financing the repair of buildings and bridges. Secretary 
of Transportation Federico Pena commented on efforts to repair the 
transportation system, and State Senator Diane Watson requested that 
helicopters be supplied to transport patients to less crowded hospitals. 
Small Business Administrator Erskine Bowles discussed programs to 
provide loans to victims. John Garamendi, State insurance commissioner, 
requested the Federal Government's help in rebuilding homes and 
businesses and suggested a national disaster insurance program. Mayor 
Riordan then invited the President to respond.]

    The President. Well first, Mayor, let me thank you for hosting the 
meeting and for inviting me out. I was sitting--I actually got quite a 
number of good ideas today. I'm not sure the best idea didn't come from 
Art Torres when he said we needed to give every elected official a fact 
sheet on all these programs in all the appropriate languages, because 
then all of you can go out and strengthen your own position by making 
sure that it works. And I think that's important; that's a great idea.
    The second thing I'd like to do is just thank you for the kind words 
you said about all the people that are here that came from the Federal 
Government. As I was looking there, from my Federal Highway 
Administrator Mr. Slater to my Budget Director Mr. Panetta to James Lee 
Witt to Secretary Pena, Secretary Cisneros, Mr. Bowles, and down to 
David on the end, starting with David Barram and looking around the 
other table, these people have something very unusual in Federal 
officials, they actually had years of experience in the fields in which 
they're working before I appointed them to the jobs that they hold. It 
makes a huge difference, and I hope it turns out to be a precedent in 
the future.
    Let me just say one other thing. Every month when the economic 
reports come in at the White House and I see that interest rates are 
down, investments up, home mortgage delinquencies were at a 19-year low 
the month before last, and all these jobs have been created in the 
country, I ask everybody the same question: When is this going to start 
affecting California? And the thing that worried me most about the 
earthquake, beyond the terrible human tragedies involved, was the 
prospect that this might delay what we were beginning to see, which is 
the economic recovery beginning to take hold in California.
    Now, one of three things can happen now: This earthquake can make 
your situation worse, it can have no impact, or it can actually make it 
better. And you're going to have to decide. We have a couple of 
responsibilities in that regard at the national level. The first thing 
we've got to do is to get this money out in a hurry.
    We'll work with you on that, both the emergency money and that which 
comes in the supplemental. That will have a positive economic impact 
which at least will partially offset the negative things which have 
occurred in the short run.
    The second thing we have to do is to make sure that structurally 
nothing happens. For example, I thought what Senator Watson said about 
looking at the different road routes was an interesting thing. You have 
got to figure out how to make sure you don't lose a single job on this. 
And as Rodney Slater pointed out to me earlier, you also ship a lot of 
produce and other products out of California on the highways. And we 
can't help that. And you can't do that by mass transit. They're still 
going to have to get on a truck and go. So you have to figure that out. 
And whatever we're supposed to do to help you do that, we've got to do.
    The third thing I want to say is we will do whatever we can that is 
legally possible, working with Chairman Panetta here, to accelerate the 
funds and to reduce the bureaucratic burdens of moving on this highway 
construction. But I would urge you, as we talked at the site today, to 
consider things like 7-day work weeks, 24-hour-a-day construction where 
the neighbors will permit it, things that will actually put more people 
from southern California to work. If you build these roads quicker than 
you normally

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would, you will by definition have to hire more people than you normally 
would in a short period of time, which could actually give you a little 
bit of economic boost when you desperately need it. So we will try to 
help you, but I want you to come up with a plan to tell us how you want 
to do it.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:30 p.m. at the Hollywood-Burbank Airport.