Six years after the Northridge temblor, damage has again taken center stage this time in Sacramento, where state lawmakers are considering a bill to reopen the insurance claims process.

If the bill passes, it could be a windfall for Valley homeowners, perhaps resulting in billions of dollars in payments. But local observers say there is little prospect that businesses will see new reimbursements for quake damage.

The legislation is being considered amid ongoing investigations of Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who is accused of diverting money from an insurance relief fund for his own political purposes and giving insurers a break when it came to fulfilling their earthquake commitments.

With Quackenbush in the hot seat, the state Senate passed legislation to reopen the claims process for people whose homes were damaged by the earthquake, giving them another year to file a claim. The legislation is awaiting a vote in the Assembly.

While the deal could be a boon to homeowners, San Fernando Valley business leaders say that whatever happens in Sacramento will come too late for most business owners impacted by the quake.

"Right now, no one in the Valley remembers the quake," said Maureen Freid, president of the Northridge Chamber of Commerce. "Things have been fixed. And many places look even better."

Those businesses that couldn't survive the damage sold or went bankrupt long ago.

"A lot of businesses packed up and left or went into other things," Freid said. "There's a lot of people that left and sought their fortunes elsewhere."

Keith Stark, owner of Chatsworth-based Pacific Fixture Co. Inc., a builder of interiors for retail stores, is an example of the many local business owners that were hurt badly by the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Aside from building damage from a roof cave-in, Stark lost millions immediately after the quake when his customers, mostly small merchants, went under because they had no earthquake insurance or because of delays in getting their businesses running again.

Nonetheless, today the earthquake is little more than a faded memory. Stark's business is again on the upswing, and he expects to generate roughly $2 million in revenues this year, the same as the year before the earthquake sliced his sales in half.

For Stark and others like him, the latest flap over the Northridge earthquake has aroused plenty of anger, but little expectation of reparation. The strong economy has turned things right-side up for most businesses damaged by the quake. As a result, few commercial structures have gone unrepaired.


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