Car-mad city must change its ways: Pacific storm adds to misery of Los Angeles tent-dwellers

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The Independent Online
LOS ANGELES - After a terrible week, now this. The Brown Derby, the Hollywood restaurant where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard and where other pre-war stars regularly met to preen and posture, has been knocked down because of the damage it sustained in the Los Angeles earthquake, writes Phil Reeves.

The demolition of the elegant Vine Street eating-house, once financed by Jack Warner and Cecil B De Mille, among others, has infuriated preservationists who believe that more could have been done to save an historic landmark in a city scarred by fast-food joints, parking lots and characterless apartment blocks.

It is also another example of the scale of the damage wrought by the earthquake, which is only now becoming clear. When it hit southern California nine days ago, killing 57 people and injuring more than 8,000, it was surprising how many structures managed to survive. The city's stringent earthquake building regulations seemed to have paid dividends.

But the devastation was worse than first appeared: since then building inspectors have condemned 14,576 homes as at least partially unsafe. In less than 30 terrifying seconds the equivalent of a small town was removed from the city's housing stock.

To help pay for costs estimated at up to dollars 30bn ( pounds 20bn), the White House is to submit an appropriations bill to Congress requesting more than dollars 5bn in emergency funds for California. Some dollars 900m in contingency funds has already been released.

However, the City of Angels will need more than federal money. It will also need a change in lifestyle. After decades of foolish dependency on road transport in a region riddled with seismic flaws, Angelenos are suddenly paying heed to their newly elected mayor, Richard Riordan, who has called for staggered work schedules, more car-sharing and the movement of goods at night.

The urgency of these changes was made unpleasantly clear this week as thousands of cars formed a nine-mile, two-hour jam as they tried to head north to the Santa Clarita Valley, where two of the four freeway collapses occurred.

Nor has the recovery been made easier by a winter storm that swept in from the Pacific, pounding the army tents that have become home for some 2,500 people, many too scared to return home.

(Photograph omitted)