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By Daine B. WoodStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 17, 1995


ONE year after the costliest disaster in United States history -

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the 6.7-magnitude earthquake here - Los Angeles is still a city in repair and transition.

Scaffolded office buildings, ubiquitous piles of brick and mortar, and abandoned ``ghost'' apartments sit as present reminders of the jolt has become a defining moment in the region's history.

Yet, even as homeowners continue to repair foundations and lawmakers debate safety codes, the quake that struck in the inky morning hours of Jan. 17, 1994, has also served to pull neighborhoods together in this normally fragmented city and pump new life into areas of the economy. Just how far Los Angeles has - and hasn't - come is summed up in three views from an intersection in the San Fernando Valley, not far from the earthquake's epicenter:

* ``I'm truly amazed at the way government and citizens have come together to streamline the rebuilding,'' says Bruce Frasco, senior vice president of Beitler Commercial Realty Services. From his 21st-floor window at the corner of Sepulveda and Ventura Blvds., Mr. Frasco applauds a real estate rebound that has brought the hardest-hit commercial strip in the sprawling Valley from 14 percent to 7 percent vacancy since before the quake.

* ``It's been just devastating,'' says LaVon Young, who lost her job at the Radisson Hotel, one of several major buildings still closed and draped in scaffolding just a block away. Repeatedly denied federal emergency aid for lost possessions, she recounts a year of difficult living on $4,528 in unemployment benefits. She eagerly awaits news she can return to work. ``I know I'm lucky to have a roof over my head,'' she says, ``but I need to get my income back.''

* ``I thought business would be a little better by now,'' says Michael Ourieff, owner of a pizzeria that has just moved into a new location from where his original building was damaged blocks away. He complains of a suit recently filed by the Sherman Oaks Homeowner's Association to slow implementation of a redevelopment plan that could remake the town's main boulevard with widened sidewalks and storefronts.

``The homeowners want to have some say in what gets done, which is fine,'' he says, ``but we need the money - now.''

The temblor did hit at an inopportune for the city.

``For the first time in state history, a major earthquake hit during deep recession,'' says Los Angeles historian Mike Davis.

Through paramount necessity, he says, such a ``disharmonic convergence'' has presented the scores of affected communities an unparalleled opportunity to redesign response and preparation mechanisms, remake economic-social programs, and lay new foundations - from streets and buildings to community cooperation.

Whether and how that will happen, though, is a story just beginning.

Perhaps most indicative of the wide debate here is a state Seismic Safety Commission report about the reform of building codes and land-use planning. Due to the governor this week after months of delays, it is still not ready. Commission members cannot agree on recommendations about the retrofitting of freeways and new standards for steel-frame buildings and homes.

``The quake revealed both the enormous and terrifying extent of seismic danger in our structures, and the system's political inability to deal with it,'' says Mr. Davis.

Last week Southern California received more sobering news: a year - and 10,000 aftershocks - after the Northridge-centered quake, scientists from two universities and the US Geological Survey produced studies predicting that a barrage of 6.7 or stronger earthquakes are likely in the near future.