State Rejects Disaster Funding for La Habra Earthquake

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State officials have denied Orange County’s request for a State of Emergency declaration for the March earthquake centered in La Habra, thereby preventing the county from receiving state disaster funds for the incident.

In a letter released by the county on Monday, a top state official says the quake’s damages don’t qualify for the emergency declaration.

“The governor is empowered to proclaim a State of Emergency when extreme peril exists and when the severity and magnitude of an incident is beyond the capabilities of the local jurisdiction,” wrote Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, in his June 23 letter.

“As a result of the assessments that were conducted, the determination was made that a threat to lives or public safety, which would require the expanded emergency powers of a gubernatorial proclamation or presidential declaration, was not present.”

(Click here to read the state’s letter.)

It’s unclear whether the county will appeal the decision. Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson couldn’t be reached for comment.

The 5.1-magnitude earthquake hit North Orange County on March 28 and was felt across the Greater Los Angeles Region.

More than a dozen breaks to water lines were reported, along with millions of dollars in property damage.

Following the earthquake, Orange County supervisors asked the governor to declare a State of Emergency and sought California Disaster Assistance Act. The county also requested a presidential disaster declaration.

According to the county, the quake caused $10.8 million in damage to public property and another $1.75 million to private property.

$6.5 million of the reported damage was to Cal State Fullerton, followed by $2 million at the Brea-Olinda Unified School District. Other North County school districts reported damage, as did the county’s Community Resources department and other agencies.

In California, local governments can declare an emergency and request state and federal disaster assistance.

Immediate help in repairing public infrastructure can be approved by the secretary of the California Emergency Management Agency. The governor can also declare a State of Emergency, which opens up other types of aid.

The threshold for state emergency “public assistance” to Orange County was $10.4 million as of October 2012, according to the state.

The process for a presidential disaster declaration, meanwhile, starts with a request from a governor.

State and federal officials then assess the damage and how it affects people and public structures.

Governors are expected to “show that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the local governments and that Federal assistance is necessary,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If approved, the presidential declaration opens up a range of federal assistance and funding.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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